As Fort Mac-Tyler Perry deal is set to close, State Sen. Vincent Fort declares the sale illegal

By Maria Saporta

The controversial deal to sell Tyler Perry 330 acres of land of Fort McPherson for only $30 million could close as early as Friday morning.

Vincent Fort

Vincent Fort addresses the community about Fort McPherson in 2014 (Photos by Maria Saporta)

A special board meeting of the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority has been called for 9 a.m. June 26. The agenda only states that the board will go into executive session to discuss legal matters and real estate. – followed by a resolution to approve the acquisition and disposition of land.

But on the eve of the transaction, State Sen. Vincent Fort cautioned that the deal is likely unconstitutional and illegal.

In a telephone conversation Thursday evening, Fort said that Perry is getting the property at $90,000 an acre. But MILRA had the entire 488-acres of the base appraised at $109 million – or $223,000 an acre.

“He is getting a 60 percent discount on the property,” Fort said. “The state Constitution prohibits gratuity. I have had the law researched by people with legal expertise in this area, and this goes against Constitutional law. You can not give a gratuity – sell the land for less than what it’s worth. It is illegal and unconstitutional. This is a game changer.”

Fort has been vocal against the the Perry-Fort Mac deal because of its lack of transparency, the lack of a public process and the limited input from the community.

MILRA had adopted a master plan that had gone through a public process. Efforts were being for MILRA to take control of the now vacant base so it could market the property and start getting proposals from interested developers.

Joyce Sheperd

City Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd is captivated by filmmaker Tyler Perry at MILRA board meeting

That whole process was abandoned when when Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed showed the property to Tyler Perry, who decided he wanted to relocate Tyler Perry Studios to the site. A deal was negotiated outside of a competitive bidding process with other interested developers or without taking into account the appraised value of the land.

But Fort said that individuals who buy land from the state must pay the appraised price – otherwise it would be viewed as a gratuity.

“It is embedded in the Georgia Constitution, and it has been upheld in Georgia Supreme Court cases for decades,” Fort said. “Tyler can not get a $40 million discount for the property.”

Fort went on to say that state law would not prohibit Perry from buying the property. But he would have to pay a fair market price. In other words Perry would need to pay a total $73 million for the 330 acres that he has identified.

The Perry-Fort Mac deal has been controversial for several reasons. Perry will be acquiring the prime pieces of the fort, including the historic buildings, the parade grounds, most of the golf course and even the major roads going through the property.

MILRA will get 144 acres, but most of that land is the least attractive part of the property – areas carved out along the edges like the fat around a piece of steak.

Vincent Fort

Vincent Fort addresses community group about Fort McPherson in 2014

To add insult to injury, the City of Atlanta is proposing to spend $510,000 of Campbellton Road Tax Allocation District dollars to build a new road. That road will parallel an already existing road that will become part of Perry’s land holdings, which will be off limits to the public.

Perry also is expected to build a major fence around his portion of the property to keep people off the property.

State Sen. Fort said it would be prudent for MILRA to put the deal on hold so that it could sure the transaction was not unconstitutional.

“If they go ahead with this, the community is being short-changed in this process,” Fort said. “We will pursue every avenue to make sure there is a favorable outcome for the community.”

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.

7 replies
  1. jim says:

    Thank you to Vincent Fort, Maria Saporta, and Coucil Person Felicia Moore for having the courage to stand up to power. As a resident of SW Atlanta I am grateful to these folks for exposing this deal.Report

    Reply
  2. JMP says:

    What’s funny is, for the new Falcons stadium, Reed claimed that paying above appraised value for a church property would have violated Georgia state law: 

    http://www.politifact.com/georgia/statements/2013/aug/26/kasim-reed/mayor-correct-state-stadium-spending-limitations/

    So how is accepting an offer for Fort McPherson at substantially below the appraised value supposed to be legal? 

    To do either would represent a failure to respect state interests. 

    I think Vincent Fort is on to something, and Reed would too if he weren’t trying to hook up a friend.Report

    Reply
  3. atlman says:

    @JMP

    “So how is accepting an offer for Fort McPherson at substantially below the appraised value supposed to be legal?” 

    Simple … if the law forbids paying too much but does not forbid paying too little. And also if the law applies to the government buying a property from a private owner (as was the case with the city buying the property from churches) but does not apply to the government selling the property.

    And it wasn’t about Reed trying to hook up a friend. It was Reed trying to unload a property that no one had shown an interest in buying. Do you honestly believe that there are people out there willing to pay $223,000 an acre, or even $91,000 an acre, that Reed is turning down in order to sell to Perry?Report

    Reply
  4. atlman says:

    All right. The Wall Street Journal did a much better job of covering this story than the locals who are basically mouthpieces for progressive activists.

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/tyler-perrys-house-of-production-close-to-a-wrap-1434447007

    Vincent Fort claims that the movie studio isn’t the highest and best use of the property, and he and others are talking up the bioscience campus idea. Here is the facts: “Brian Hooker, executive director of the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority … said that the previous redevelopment plan wasn’t feasible because years of work and study found that any interest from bioscience and medical institutions like the Mayo Clinic and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hinged on further development of the site ahead of a sale, a prohibitively expensive route for the redevelopment authority.”

    So there you have it. The local activists want the city to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to develop Fort McPherson in order to try to attract jobs that may not even come! So what this boils down to is an ideological skirmish between pro-business center-left people like Reed and left-liberal progressives like Fort, the community activists and Miss Saporta who believe that government should use taxpayer dollars to spur economic growth. But here’s the rub: if the city spends hundreds of millions of dollars on Fort McPherson, that takes money away from other badly needed projects in the city that have a much higher chance of paying off. The city cannot print its own money. It also doesn’t get a bit of help from the state. It doesn’t have the resources to give the local activists what they want, especially since the Fort Mac crowd isn’t the only group of local activists with their hands out. The folks around Turner Field also feel that the city should spare no expense in turning their neighborhood into Buckhead or Vinings. South side neighborhoods are also complaining that they aren’t getting as much Beltline money as north side neighborhoods are. And so on. 

    More from the WSJ: “Home listing prices in Fort McPherson’s ZIP Code averaged $60,000 in May, versus $238,000 for all of Atlanta.” And yet the properties mostly sit empty and unsold. Why? Because not even working class people who can get a mortgage approved for a starter home want to live there. There are other places in the city far more desirable. If you believe that it is the city’s job to spend the hundreds of millions required to transform that area into a place that businesses and residents will want to locate, then yes I guess this is a bad deal. But let the people who feel that way be responsible for A) finding a buyer for the place and B) paying the taxes and maintenance costs on Fort McPherson (which is several million a year) until that buyer is found.Report

    Reply
  5. mnst says:

    @atlman It’s not a matter of the state paying too little, it’s the state BEING PAID too little. That’s a major distinction, especially if Senator Fort is right about it qualifying as an illegal gratuity under state law.Report

    Reply
  6. JMP says:

    @atlman Well then you simply don’t sell until there is a buyer who will pay something near appraised value. What’s the rush? You are creating a false distinction between the state paying too much for a private property and the state accepting too little for a state property. Surely you understand that either scenario represents a benefit to a private party at the stare’s expense. I guess we’ll see what the courts have to say!Report

    Reply

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