An open letter to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed about Fort McPherson

By Maria Saporta

Honorable Mayor Reed,

When you issued your press release last week saying you welcomed a conversation on Fort McPherson – that you encouraged debate and dialogue based on facts – not fiction, I was delighted and greatly relieved.

An open, honest and fact-based debate about Fort McPherson is long overdue.

Ft Mac

No trespassing – Fort McPherson (Photos by Maria Saporta)

As you know, I believe Fort McPherson represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Atlanta. We have only one chance to get it right.

First, I would like to correct some misinformation that has been spread about this 488-acre treasure.

The most egregious statement has been that the only person who had shown interest in buying land at Fort McPherson has been Tyler Perry.

First of all, the state of Georgia offered nearly $10 million to buy one building and 11 acres on the site (compared to Perry offering $30 million for 330 acres). You convinced Gov. Nathan Deal to withdraw his offer because Perry wanted that building for the headquarters of Tyler Perry Studios.

Second, there has been an ongoing lawsuit from Ubiquitous Entertainment Studios, which had been trying for the better part of two years to buy 80 acres at Fort McPherson. They were prepared to spend up to $10 million for that property (more per acre than Perry is paying), but they were told by the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority (MILRA) that they could not present a proposal until the Authority had acquired the property from the U.S. Army.

Ft Mac

A barbed-wire fence, a wall and an aluminum barrier block out the public from Fort McPherson

A city economic development official told me that he had told several other interested parties the same thing. MILRA would not accept any proposals from potential buyers until the Authority had title to the property.

After Ubiquitous filed its lawsuit, officials from the City of Atlanta and MILRA tried to discredit them saying they didn’t have the financial capacity to go through with their plans. Of course Ubiquitous never got an opportunity to fully present its proposal, but it had several heavyweights on its board, including Oscar-winner Denzel Washington. It also had brought in a major Hollywood studio to tour Fort McPherson as a potential partner.

Also, MILRA had been working on a master plan that had been vetted by the community. It is still on the MILRA website calling for a mixed-use residential, office and retail community, a Georgia science and technology park and open space.

Ft Mac

One of the few areas where there is just one barrier – a barbed-wire fence

A team of three nationally-known developers was selected to oversee the redevelopment of Fort McPherson, but MILRA changed the rules saying they would have to pay for the Authority’s administrative costs (roughly $500,000 a year), and the team pulled out.

All this interest existed before MILRA had launched a national campaign to market the property, which it was getting ready to do before you circumvented the publicly-agreed to process by cutting a deal with Tyler Perry.

Obviously, I believe MILRA would have been wise to study which communities had been most successful in redeveloping their closed army bases, and then modeled its plan after a best-in-class approach. More on that later.

But Mayor, you have had your heart set on Tyler Perry moving his studio to Fort Mac.

Ft Mac

One can just see the roof-top of one of the attractive homes at Fort McPherson over the barriers

Theoretically, that could have been a positive development if you and MILRA had been willing to negotiate with Tyler Perry in the city’s best interests.

For starters – the fence.

When the Perry deal was first announced, members of the community expressed concern that Perry would just turn Fort McPherson into another fort or make it a fort within a fort.

“The community was very excited about the walls coming down,” Atlanta City Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd, who represents the Farea and serves on the Authority as an ad-hoc member, said in July 2014. “You cannot keep the walls up the way it is now.”

Ft Mac

Tall barriers – barbed-wire fences and aluminum blockades – hide the jewels that are part of Fort McPherson

There has been no talk about the walls coming down for months. In fact, Perry was able to redraw the property he would own so the land in front of the Lakewood-Fort McPherson MARTA station, a prime redevelopment site, will be fenced off. Perry also was able to make what would have been a public road accessing the interior of the property into a private road closed off to the public.

Why did you and MILRA not negotiate greater public access to the site? Why did you and MILRA not demand to retain the prime redevelopment property across from the MARTA station?

And the 200-plus acres of green space would have been a wonderful amenity for the City of Atlanta. Could you and MILRA have negotiated a deal with Tyler Perry to be able to use the green space for festivals five weekends out of the year?

Ft Mac

Property across from Lakewood-Fort McPherson MARTA station would be owned by Tyler Perry and would continue to be off limits to the public

Perhaps you and MILRA could have convinced Tyler Perry to just fence off the area where he would be keeping expensive studio equipment and keep the rest of the property open to the community – the tennis courts, the basketball courts, a maintained golf course, the movie theatre, the grocery store, the bowling alley….

Tyler Perry could have made Fort McPherson part of the community. Perhaps you and MILRA could have made that a condition of the sale.

One of the community’s biggest concerns is that this is a land play for Tyler Perry. He is getting the property at less than $100,000 an acre – a steal by almost any measure. Although MILRA has the first option to buy any property he would sell, it will have to buy it at fair market value. Somehow that just doesn’t seem fair. And it doesn’t stop  Tyler Perry simply becoming a land speculator.

But if MILRA had negotiated a first option to buy the property for what he had paid for it with a slight annual escalation of say 3 percent a year, then that would have kept everyone honest.

Ft Mac

Fort McPherson’s guard gate off Lee Street – a half mile from MARTA station – MILRA’s property would begin here – presumably with public access

Another suggestion. We have not been able to see the contract to see what is included, so I’m hoping you and MILRA have made this part of the deal.

Are there performance measures for Tyler Perry to meet in order for him to keep ownership of the property? It is a routine condition in sales of public lands for redevelopment. Does Tyler Perry have to build “x” number of studios in “x” number of years and employ “x” number of people to live up to his agreement with MILRA?

Again, those kind of conditions should be in the contract, and that contract should be made available to the public before the deal is closed.

Lastly, Perry is buying the 330 prime acres on the site – leaving 148 acres for MILRA to redevelop. Although MILRA is fond of saying it’s as much land as Atlantic Station, the way the land is configured on patchy edges of the site, it is not ideal for redevelopment. Perry also has first option to buy MILRA’s land.

Which leads me to the question – why does Perry need 330 acres?

EUE Screen Gems at Lakewood  has a 10-stage, 33-acre studio complex with 212,000 square feet of production space and 40,000 square feet of furnished office space. That’s one-tenth the land that Perry is buying.

Ft Mac

Entrance to Fort McPherson – imagine how difficult to for economic development to occur as long as these fences are present

Perhaps even more relevant is “The Presidio” – a former Army base in San Francisco.

The Presidio has 21 different neighborhoods with a majority of land set aside to become part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The Letterman Digital Arts Center, the headquarters of LucasFilm and home of Industrial, Light & Magic as well as Animation, Consumer Products, Digital Media and Franchise Management, located its headquarters at the Presidio on a 23-acre campus.

In 2002, LucasFilm, however, entered into a 90-year ground lease for the 23 acres, which includes 15 acres of green space accessible to the public. LucasFilm pays $5.8 million in rent each year, which helps cover the costs of the Presidio Trust’s annual budget.

Mayor, a couple of points for Atlanta to consider as it relates to Fort McPherson. If LucasFilm can operate its studios on 23 acres that it leases and still have 15 acres of green space accessible to the public, why can’t Tyler Perry remove the fences at Fort McPherson and make it be part of the community once and for all?

Ft Mac

A tree tries to climb over the wall of Fort McPherson – the two-layered barriers send an unfriendly message to the surrounding community

Just so I am not misunderstood, I am not attacking you in my columns on Fort McPherson. Quite the opposite. I am looking out for what is in the best interest for the City of Atlanta and for the southside.

I don’t believe this quadrant of the city should be short-changed in any way, and it pains me when people say the current Tyler Perry deal is the best the area can hope for.

The southside deserves so much better. I know you can be the Mayor who could deliver so much more. You could help develop an amazing vision for Fort McPherson – one that would totally transform the southside – an area desperate for a new day without fences and without low expectations.

Believe it or not Mayor Reed, I am looking out for your legacy.

Sincerely,

Maria

Note to readers: In my last two columns about Fort McPherson, (column one and column two), I have included photos of the beautiful amenities within the walls of the fort. So many people have had no idea of the treasures that exist on this magnificent piece of property. For this column, I decided to just show the images that the community sees of Fort McPherson day-in and day-out. If we truly want to see a transformation of the southside, these fences must come down.

 

 

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

67 replies
  1. Noel M says:

    Maria, I am so pleased to see your response. Overall, I am a supporter of many of Mayor Reed’s accomplishments as mayor.
    But as a lifetime resident of Atlanta’s southside, I know we can do better with this amazing piece of property. Thank you for doing what many journalists shy away from doing, which is questioning the accepted wisdom and digging deeper. I hope the appropriate parties are listening.Report

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  2. RonSmith3 says:

    Agree with Ms. Saporta’s comments. I’ll buy her a round of
    drinks anytime, cheers to your reporting. Fort McPherson is a gem. I worked on
    the fort for a decade, a far shorter span than many people. I think it’s a disservice
    to us all and the long history of Fort McPherson to let it sit and rot. A bird
    in the hand…Report

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  3. Matt Garbett says:

    For those that may respond to Maria by saying that no one is interested in the property (as Mayor Reed and Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd have), I would direct you to their presentation to the Community Development and Human Resources Committee on January 14, 2014 (just months before the Tyler Perry deal was announced). In it, you will hear how many people are interested in the property; how they can sell the property and meet the desires of the community; how they can’t wait for conveyance because only then can they start negotiating. I think Mayor Reed, Councilwoman Sheperd, and Jack Sprott us an explanation of the glaring inconsistencies between what was presented to the committee one month and what has been stated since April of the same year. The presentation starts at 1:10:00. http://citycouncil.atlantaga.gov/media/CD011414.wmvReport

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  4. tim.adcock says:

    can you fix the THOUGHTLEADERS carousel so the page will stop continuously scrolling up and down? seriously bad design, and quite annoying.Report

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  5. Janet Riley says:

    Outside of B Company building, there is a Royal Oak tree planted June, 2002, in memory of my husband, The Army gave me the placque from the marker before closing Ft. McPherson, but the tree could not be removed. Would be interesting to see what happends to it now.Report

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  6. Adam Summerville says:

    My mother was born at Fort Mac and I spent countless hours playing golf with my grandfather and dad (and learned how to drive at the age of 8 by driving them in a cart) my mom and grandfather have both passed and I would like to take my son there to show him part of his family history…but I have the feeling that if Perry buys the land I would be unable to because he will more than likely tear everything down and build over the golf courseReport

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  7. SimoneJoye says:

    Go Tyler Go! Thank you Mayor Reed! Some of us in the city support you in this deal–no offense to anyone else, but there are TONS of empty properties throughout this city that needs redevelopment…Take a ride through NW, pick what can be done to help residents there…please, but the Southside is just so much more appealing for “urban renewal” right? I wonder why that is. Porsche seems to be legit, but not Mr.Perry?Report

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  8. Eileen Drennen says:

    great work, Maria Saporta!!! I am so glad you are Not Letting This Go and only pray your work causes others to rise up and demand the mayor pay attention. Beltline, Ponce City Market & Doraville were great local examples, I’m glad you pulled in national ones too.Report

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  9. David says:

    SimoneJoye Your first post…curious…

    If you had taken the time to read the article, Maria never said anything about not supporting Tyler; just about the way in which the deal was made.

    I did some digging on you, and your business is a 30 min. drive from the fort. I live right next to it, and we as a community have developed an award-winning proposal for that land. Instead of listening to our voices, it has been a private discussion between the mayor and Tyler Perry.

    You know what else is a 30-min drive? Douglasville. Tyler Perry is building his mansion there, and already has land dedicated to only building studio space. Improvement of the nearby cities will also help Atlanta grow.

    If you were close by, you should know that Fort Mac is not just any other land. It is THE gem of the southside. We and any who see it are enamored with it. For example, MLS listed it as the ideal they were seeking for a practice field…if it were available.

    I work in the film business, and Tyler Perry gives a novel-length contract with insane stipulations like don’t look at him in the eye…I would hate the land to go to someone like that. But I would support it if it was an open and fair process. Coincidentally, I thought Maria handled it with respect and grace, better than I could have done as a neighbor to the fort… She questioned why he would need such a large swath of land, past examples of success done by high-name studios, and other options that could help my neighborhood, which continues to be looked over and has behind-the-door deals made. The questions, and facts she listed are healthy, and support an open and fair process. But you would know that, if you weren’t so gung-ho about posting a picture of you with Tyler Perry. 

    I have to ask, whose side are you on? Atlanta, the youth surrounding the property, the long-time older residents who cannot have a shorter drive to a grocery store? Or Tyler, because you met him before?Report

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  10. LarryThompson1 says:

    Kasim Reed is simply the latest completely corrupt, venal, pathologically lying cog in the machine Maynard Jackson set up and inspired years ago.  There is nothing new here at all.  It is corruption and cronyism.  It’s been going on in Atlanta since the early 70’s.  Reed doesn’t care about the city of even his “legacy” (after all, his successors in the Maynard Jackson cabal will whitewash that).  Reed cares only about Reed.Report

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  11. JM says:

    @David SimoneJoye Thank you, @David for protecting those who live in the neighborhood and will be blocked out of this wonderful treasure – possibly the best treasure the city has left to offer her southside residents. It is sad that a person would want to keep this for himself and for his own profit, forgetting where he came from and those that helped him along the way.Report

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  12. Martha W says:

    Sweetheart deal for Perry. Wonder what Reed is getting out of it. Fort Mac should be developed for the greatest good, and Perry’s studio ain’t it.  My guess is that he will develop the property that he is buying for a pittance.Report

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  13. brecko77 says:

    LarryThompson1 Kasim is probably the last of the cabal. He only won in 2009 by 700 votes and god only knows how many of those were fraudulent. The are out of bullets.Report

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  14. SaportaReport says:

    Thank you all for your feedback! SaportaReport welcomes differing views and opinions about the issues – as long as we are respectful of each other and we don’t make it personal.Report

    Reply
  15. Kahlil English says:

    Christopher Ivey Austin Theodore Prodigal Son Clay Perry Adrianne Serrano Greg Schreier Abi Berwager Schreier Timothy Settle Tim BrowneReport

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  16. ARBARCH says:

    Maria: There has to be a way to stop this disaster.  I have lived here all my life and the idea that ATLANTA always does the WRONG thing is appalling. I am so glad you use San Francisco as a positive example.  It has always done what is right and correct for its citizens and to make that city livable and accessible.  
    It is time to hit the streets in protest!Report

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  17. larry30 says:

    I used to play a lot of golf at Fort Mac. The golf course was designed by Robert Trent Jones. It’s a beautiful post. They spent millions building a new clubhouse several years ago. The last time I was there I was saddened to see the old officers club gone. So sad to see the lack of vision from our civic leaders with respect to this piece of property.Report

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  18. VirgilioPerezPascoe says:

    Madame Saporta,

    Je suis désolé pour la réaction”ad- hominem” à  vôtre lettre issue de la mairie d´Atlanta, certainement sous l´égide de M. le maire.  Je  crois que vous posez des questions très importantes qui en ravanche, becoin des réponses sérieuses. Je vous remercie  pour vos efforts courageux.Report

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  19. Susan Searles says:

    Excellent analysis. It is indeed unfortunate that the citizens of Atlanta and East Point will not get the advantages that could have been possible.Report

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  20. LarryThompson1 says:

    I agree with mon ami Français in his sentiments regarding both the mayor and your efforts. I applaud your efforts and deeply regret that the truth of the matter is such that our mayor is, like so many of his predecessors, a very immoral, dishonest and avaricious predator on our fair city.  It may be ad hominem; but, it is nonetheless, the truth.Report

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  21. VirgilioPerezPascoe says:

    LarryThompson1 I meant to say that the “ad hominem” attacks came from the Mayor´s office, not from Ms. Saporta.  I believe the questions she poses are right on target and they require a serious answer.  I agree with you on your assessment of how this city administration has behaved.  For the future of the city, which I think looks great from my vantage point, serious consideration for urban renewal that includes the present inhabitants of the áreas being renewed require targeted private public investments that benefit both the city and private interests.  But it is not correct to hand over everything to private interests.Report

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  22. Matt Garbett says:

    SimoneJoye  You don’t plan around a person. You plan around the place. People come and go. They retire, they go out of business, they pass away. Land and buildings are what are important for planning because they last long into the future. No one – at least not most of what I’ve read – is against Tyler Perry. Nor to the mayor seeking a suitable location for his studios. Ft. McPherson is not that location. Ft. McPherson has far greater potential as a new, thriving, neighborhood in the heart of the city rather than as a disconnected industrial site (and make no mistake, it’s a light industrial site). Find Mr. Perry’s studios an appropriate home, and let’s convert Ft. McPherson to it’s highest and best use.Report

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  23. AdeWestEnd says:

    @larry30 Wow, didn’t realize there was a golf course at Fort Mac until Maria’s reporting and then to learn it was designed by Robert Trent Jones.  That in itself should give it some historic protection and give more weight to make this a public course.  

    Even if the City was set on selling to Tyler Perry, you would think they could retain most of the amenities to enrich the surrounding community and spur economic development (grocery store?, bowling alley, green/park space, golf course, etc) and access to MARTA.  

    I think if the walls came down and there was a master plan with input from the community, we would see a lot of people moving to this area.Report

    Reply
  24. ARBARCH says:

    It seems that the only thing that is understood by City Governments, corrupt tho they may be, is protests, riots and destruction of property.  I would hope that that is not the only way to be heard but if it is, then so be it.Report

    Reply
  25. JWK says:

    From the very beginning I don’t think there was any effort to include input from private developers at the national level. MILRA was content to operate their own little fiefdom and this is the result. They must have thought that the citizens of Atlanta would just throw up their hands and say “Oh well, the City Govt. mangled another one” and then forget about it. This is too big to walk away from and the backroom deal has too big a stench. This story should be national and all the inside players need to be brought out in the light. I am sure that any Developer, with any sense, would jump at the opportunity to turn this gem into a viable, living, breathing project in this economy.Report

    Reply
  26. Ralph from BenHill says:

    I agree with the author on everything. As an Atlanta native and someone that lives on that side of town. This property could be what the Krog street area is today. Connection to the belt line and much more. TPS will not allow any one to come on that property. That was a BAD deal all the way around!!! This HAS to be redone, rethought out, redesigned!!!Report

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  27. ironiclad says:

    Reed can easily be characterized as manipulative and egotistical, but l will cut through and call it. He is a crook.I  live in the City of Atlanta and in DeKalb – how could I be so lucky?! – and there is no one in DeKalb government who is more any more corrupt and conniving than Reed. Hie efforts are not on behalf of the city but toward his own interests.  Apparently he has some kind of deal working with people like Arthur Blank to fund his future campaigns. Where are the articles about this?Report

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  28. mnst says:

    I haven’t seen anyone mention Tyler Perry’s former studios on Krog Street in the discussion yet. It’s a pretty good example of what residents in the SW can expect if he comes to their neighborhood. It wasn’t until he left, and a new developer took over, that our neighborhood got the kind of development it really deserved in Krog Street Market. 

    If he does take over the Fort, the community’s best hope is that he’ll abandon it quickly as he has with several other properties.Report

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  29. sonicwhim says:

    What were the 10 acres the Army kept? Usually the fuel depot or motor pool are environmentally unsafe as the military has never had to follow the same regulations as the public. This is why air stations are so hard to find a use for. We live less than 2 miles from here so are definitely interested in the outcome of this deal.Report

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  30. mariasaporta says:

    @sonicwhim The 10 acres that the U.S. Army will keep will be to serve veterans. As I understand it, there are some relatively minor environmental clean up issues that the U.S. Army must address before that property can be transferred over to Tyler Perry.Report

    Reply
  31. mariasaporta says:

    mnst I did talk about the “stewardship” of Krog Street during Tyler Perry’s reign in my column three weeks ago when I was building a case why we should not sell 330 acres of Fort McPherson to him – especially some of the most historically and environmentally sensitive areas. But as they say about pictures…they are worth more than a thousand words.Report

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  32. mariasaporta says:

    ShaneHornbuckle Steve Williams and others have posted on various Facebook pages pleas for folks to contact the governor, the mayor, the Atlanta City Council, members of the MILRA board, as well as the US Army.  I tried to share links, but I couldn’t figure out how to post them from Facebook. 

    Steve, perhaps you can help. 

    Contact BRAC and share your message 
    Tom Lederle, Chief Army BRAC
    Hampton Field Office  
    Building 105A  
    3A Bernard Rd.    
    Ft. Monroe, VA 23651-5000   
    (757) 788-4350  
    Report

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  33. ChuckMiller2 says:

    I don’t know if you have seen a recent article in the NYT about the Presidio in SFC, but it bears reading as to what might be.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/24/travel/the-presidio-in-san-francisco-presents-a-fresh-face.html
    I know Ft. Mac and Atlanta do not have the location or desire as the Presidio, but when I was stationed there from 1959 to 1961, I was told by many that the only other duty station better than Ft. Mac was the Presidio. You have done a great job of showing what is very much worth preserving for the future. Thanks for you efforts. BTW – I worked with your father in the when I was with a local GC, and loved him! 🙂Report

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  34. Tom Lederle says:

    mariasaporta ShaneHornbuckle 
    Maria,
    I’m not looking for calls, cards and letters but my contact information has changed.
    Tom Lederle
    Chief, ACSIM BRAC Division
    2530 Crystal Drive, Room 5000
    Taylor Bldg / NC3
    Arlington, VA  22015
    (703) 545-2488

    I don’t recommend that anyone use postage when e-mail will work just fine.Report

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  35. mariasaporta says:

    ChuckMiller2 Chuck, thank you so much for sharing this link. It should be mandatory reading for everyone on the MILRA board. Isn’t it fascinating that Presidio and Fort McPherson were viewed as being in the same league.  Until we believe we can create world-class developments in Atlanta, we will be stuck in our own mediocrity.  And thank you for sharing your thoughts about my father.  He has been my inspiration in so many ways – especially in teaching me that it is our responsibility to be engaged citizens for a better Atlanta.Report

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  36. mariasaporta says:

    @Tom Lederle mariasaporta ShaneHornbuckle Tom, I am so glad you are following this. As you can probably tell from reading the comments on this page (backed up by messages on Facebook and twitter), a great deal of community concern exists about the future of Fort McPherson. I’m relieved that the Army is following the situation closely because I believe it truly wants this amazing asset to have the greatest possible impact on the surrounding communities. Thank you for reading. MariaReport

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  37. JWK says:

    I also appreciate everyone’s concern and input. This is too big an opportunity and can have too great an impact to let “I got mine” get away with business as usual.Report

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  38. Tom Lederle says:

    mariasaporta 
     The 10 acres you describe aren’t being retained by the Army.  The acres were acquired by the Veteran’s Administration to allow them to continue to serve the population of veterans in the area.  Last time I was there it appears that they are doing well and keeping very busy.Report

    Reply

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