Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed responds to Maria Saporta’s Fort McPherson columns

Note to readers: For the past couple of weeks, I have written two Maria’s Metro columns about the incredible opportunity we have to redevelop Fort McPherson and problems I have with the current plans to sell 330 acres to Tyler Perry.  Here is Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s unedited response to those columns. Obviously I take issue with several of his statements, but more on that later. Maria Saporta

Response by Reed Administration to Saporta Report Columns Published on May 4 and May 11, 2015 

ATLANTA – Fort McPherson is one of the most important properties in the City of Atlanta, and its future is worthy of engaged and spirited public dialogue. After the Army departed in 2007, the property sat mostly vacant for more than seven years with no commercially viable offers for redevelopment from an operating business with the verifiable financial capacity to close a significant land purchase or fund its redevelopment. In August, the McPherson Implementing Redevelopment Authority Board (MILRA), the body established by the State of Georgia and recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Defense to oversee and vet the property’s redevelopment plans, voted overwhelmingly for a proposal submitted by Tyler Perry to build a production facility on a 330-acre parcel.

Tyler Perry Kasim Reed

Tyler Perry and Kasim Reed last August upon announcing a preliminary agreement (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Based on serious and thoughtful consideration, the MILRA board decided that the proposed entertainment complex would attract robust investment to the city’s long-neglected south side neighborhoods, expand its already burgeoning television and film industry, and strengthen Atlanta’s position as the cultural and economic center of the Southeast. Notably, the MILRA board is chaired by Felker Ward, a retired army lieutenant colonel who was appointed by Governor Sonny Perdue, and has led the organization since its inception. Further, more than 75 percent of the MILRA board is comprised of individuals who have been part of the redevelopment process since 2007. As outlined in the agreement, Tyler Perry Studios will cover the acquisition costs, the majority of the carry costs (which total more than $3.5 million annually), and will invest over $100 million in the property, creating a substantial boost to the city’s tax rolls. Importantly, after the $30 million acquisition, MILRA will continue to own 144 acres (a parcel equal in size to Atlantic Station) debt free and at no cost to Atlanta’s taxpayers. The property would remain accessible to the community through tours, job training and employment opportunities. Finally, no economic incentives have been offered to Mr. Perry.

The board also determined that Perry, who has a distinguished business track record in metropolitan Atlanta, would be a strong redevelopment partner. In 2008, he opened his first studio in a long-neglected area of southwest Atlanta. Through his various entertainment ventures, Perry has invested more than $200 million in Georgia.

Fort McPherson's Troop Row

Fort McPherson’s Troop Row (Source: MILRA’s website)

Mayor Kasim Reed strongly supports the decision of the MILRA board, as does the Atlanta City Council, which voted 12-1 in favor of the proposal. Yet, in two recent columns about Fort McPherson, Maria Saporta has chosen not only to disregard, but also to distort these facts and instead create a false narrative based on misguided assumptions and questionable sources. In part one of her series, she creates fear about the transaction and with no basis in fact, paints a picture of a future Fort McPherson sealed away from the community by high studio walls. In fact, all parties involved in the agreement have voiced their interest in preserving Fort McPherson’s historic homes and charming features.

Saporta also raises questions about the financial stability of Perry’s company and attacks his integrity as a businessman, referencing a blogger named Shawn James whose other work includes offensive postings such as, “Why 70 Percent of Black Women Are Single.”  She even questions the financial success and viability of Oprah Winfrey’s cable network as a distribution partner. Not even Oprah Winfrey is good enough for Maria Saporta. Saporta has years of experience as a business journalist; one can only conclude James was her best source of information for insight on Perry’s bottom line. This line of inquiry was at best pedantic; at worst, it was deeply insulting to Perry, who surely could not have an estimated net worth of $400 million without a basic understanding of his company’s revenues, expenses, and investment and risk capacity.

Unfortunately, the use of questionable sources continues in Saporta’s second column. There, she cites a single person, David Edwards, former deputy chief operating officer under former Mayor Shirley Franklin. What Saporta fails to mention is that Edwards is not an impartial observer; he is the husband of Ayesha Khanna, a former MILRA board member who was removed from her position in December by Governor Nathan Deal. Again, Saporta is a veteran reporter who knows better than to rely on a single source who is emotionally invested in the topic.

Fort McPherson's Staff Row

Fort McPherson’s Staff Row (Source: MILRA’s website)

Importantly, in a memo written to Mayor Reed in 2010 outlining recommendations for the new administration, Edwards stated that the city did not need to hire any more police officers. Today, with 2,000 officers on the force, the city has seen a 25 percent reduction in overall crime. His failed economic advice left the city with only $7.4 million in reserves in January of 2010, and a $1.5 billion unfunded pension liability. Historic pension reform in 2011 restored the city’s financial stability and cash reserves are now over $140 million. Accordingly, Mr. Edwards was frequently wrong then, and he and Saporta are wrong now.

Even more confounding, Edwards’ vision of a redevelopment model for Fort McPherson doesn’t recognize today’s market realities. He mistakenly opines that the sale of the property is similar to the redevelopment of the Atlanta BeltLine and Ponce City Market. Furthermore, he argues in favor of using taxpayer dollars as a means to leverage private funds for development at Fort McPherson, a possible consideration in a pre-Great Recession economy, but certainly not in 2015 when we can move this project forward without financial support from the City of Atlanta.

Mayor Reed, by contrast, has made a successful practice of leveraging private and federal funds as a means to substantially boost the impact of the city’s dollars, thus protecting residents from any resulting property tax burden. For example, the Reed administration secured an $18 million grant from the Obama administration, along with philanthropic and state grant dollars, for the $43 million expansion of the BeltLine, the largest expansion in its history. Likewise, a $47 million federal grant led to the construction of the Atlanta Streetcar which has attracted more than 258,000 riders to date and $800 million in new construction within a five-minute walk of its route.

Fort Mac's Van Horn Hall

Fort McPherson’s Van Horn Hall (Source: MILRA’s website)

Mayor Reed has sometimes been criticized for moving quickly, but it is indisputable that his strong leadership, negotiating skills and keen ability to respond quickly to market demands and work fluidly with business leaders have led to greater opportunities for the City of Atlanta and resulted in historic economic development and investment. A few examples include the opening of the $100 million North American headquarters of Porsche Cars North America next to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport; selling City Hall East and securing Jamestown Properties as the developer of Ponce City Market; securing a new developer for Buckhead Atlanta; moving forward with the sale of Underground Atlanta; co-funding the Atlanta Falcons Stadium and acquiring the Morris Brown College campus on the Westside; and opening EUE Screen Gems at Lakewood.

These developments have brought more than $2.5 billion in new private investment to the city, often on plots of land that have been empty or pockmarked with eyesores that lowered property values or drained the City’s budget. The money spent each year to maintain a shuttered City Hall East or underperforming Underground Atlanta will now go to fund infrastructure improvements and services that improve the day-to-day experience of the city’s residents and visitors.

The future of Fort McPherson is no less bright, and no one is more willing to discuss it than Mayor Reed. Despite Saporta’s postscripts at the end of her columns, the Reed administration welcomes the conversation on Fort McPherson, encourages the debate and respects the press — but the dialogue must be based on facts, not fiction.

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.

42 replies
  1. Henry Ransom Batten says:

    As you stated earlier, Kasim Reed has a habit of attacking those who oppose him, regardless of the subject. Please keep reporting it as you see it!!!!Report

    Reply
  2. DebAz says:

    Fact, the Army did NOT depart in 2007. It was announced the base would close in 2007 but it did not actually completely close until 2012. Hard to take the rest of this seriously when such a simple thing as this is wrong in the beginning.Report

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  3. Stephen J. Drapeau says:

    You know all those renovation numbers are going to skyrocket the moment a shovel hit the dirt. There has not been a renovation of a former military installation that didn’t involve an EPA remediation plan. Bad soil. Poor water systems. Which side is going to foot that bill?Report

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  4. BJ Gibson says:

    I must say that the Mayors comments does lend to a need for some explanation or clarification from Maria, particularly as it relates to her sources. She points out the Mayor’s credibility flaws and he seems to point out hers. I don’t think this is an attack per se by the Mayor. The public should know the truth. Let the convo continue. I am enjoying hopefully seeing the truth come forth.
    I will also say, that I thought how the deal unfolded and was pushed along by the Mayor is still very concerning for me, not because I don’t think the development won’t be successful (Perry and the Mayor have good track records for business so far) but because how it was done.Report

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  5. kahlilenglish says:

    looks like Mayor Reed is starting to feel the heat! The real fact is that there has been no open dialogue on the subject. It is obvious that something’s amiss. None trusts you Kasim. 2017 can’t come soon enough!Report

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  6. Kahlil English says:

    Tyler Perry is abandoning his current studio in the Greenbriar area by selling it as we speak. That area hasn’t benefited at all.
    The bottom line is we in don’t want this deal going down.Report

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  7. Akaziaj Hunt says:

    Well the deal makers still make no mention of housing for homeless veterans; nor employment opportunities for vets. Of course the proof is in the pudding, but this project still feels like an effort to line the pockets of the greedy and ignore the concerns of the needy (i.e. veterans, the EP community). You can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig.U0001f416Report

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  8. Akaziaj Hunt says:

    Why won’t Mr. Perry do something with the empty Magic Johnson theatre complex.? He has done little to revitalize the Greenbriar area.#thegreedynottheneedyReport

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  9. Kent Matlock says:

    It’s sad when we have to debate the Truth of our Public Servants, for me it’s time Mayor Reed behave like Maynard or Andy, not Bill, I love Bill but he made everything about him & I thought we as a community had gotten pass personality driven petty politics, to principles…Kasim is Mayor not King, so please stop acting like he doesn’t have to report to taxpayers or citizens & I appreciate Maria Sapporta, if you don’t know her it may suggest that you don’t read what really matters and Btw, we don’t WORSHIP public servants in ATL, we evaluate them & their performance …kmReport

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  10. Kent Matlock says:

    We don’t WORSHIP public servants in ATL , we expect them to care more for others than how they’re perceived, to post a press release to respond to media, is a bit dramatic like a Diva on Housewives, not my Mayor…kmReport

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  11. Chad Carlson says:

    As a citizen of SW Atlanta I ask that we be given a voice on this property that we, as the citizens, own. The mayor and the Board have refused to share Tyler Perry’s plans for the complex citing a lawsuit that was dismissed last October because the time was not ripe. It is not so much that “assumptions” are being made. Rather, questions are being raised: Will we the taxpayers be paying this plaintiff if they decide to sue after the sale and win that lawsuit? Why is the 2010 Master Plan, formulated with citizen input, not being considered? Why is there not one official representative of the community on the McPherson Redevelopment Board? Why are there now multiple offers on the city’s 144 acres when the narrative has been, and still is, that no one is interested in the property? Why did Porsche recently move their headquarters to the SW Atlanta region if no one is interested in development in this area of Atlanta? Why does the Memorandum of Understanding with Tyler Perry Studios have no stated committment to preserve the buildings that fall within the historic boundary at the Fort? I have asked the MILRA Board to feature the signed Memorandum of Agreement between the Army and the State Historic Preservation Office, which ensures that the 150 year history of the Fort is respected, on their website; yet, to this date that request has not been granted. I don’t want a fenced in camp at Fort McPherson as Tyler Perry has created at Greenbriar. As the 2010 Master Plan calls for I would like “streets designed to establish a network that connects Ft. McPherson to the larger community.” In short, we want honest transparency. Its a new day in SW Atlanta. I am grateful that Saporta is making us aware of the issues involved.Report

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  12. atlurbanist says:

    RE: “In part one of her series, [Maria] creates fear about the transaction and with no basis in fact, paints a picture of a future Fort McPherson sealed away from the community by high studio walls. In fact, all parties involved in the agreement have voiced their interest in preserving Fort McPherson’s historic homes and charming features.”
    Your response to Maria’s complaint about the property being “sealed away from the community by high studio walls” is that the plan will be “preserving Fort McPherson’s historic homes and charming features.” This is misdirection. Maria did not acuse the plan of demolishing the homes and features. She accused the plan of sealing off property from the neighborhood and creating a barrier when what is needed is a more connective urban fabric. The response here completely ignores that (very real and valid) concern and instead implies that Maria accused the plan of demolishing homes, something she didn’t do. Are you admitting that this *will* be sealed off from the community?
    RE: “Edwards’ vision of a redevelopment model for Fort McPherson doesn’t recognize today’s market realities. He mistakenly opines that the sale of the property is similar to the redevelopment of the Atlanta BeltLine and Ponce City Market.”

    You aren’t giving any support to your statement that the sale is not similar. Why do you think it is not similar? Because of “market realities”? Which realities do you mean? You say that the comparison is a “mistake” but you don’t explain why it is a mistake, so I have to assume that you don’t really have an explanation — it’s an accusation of “mistake” without reason. 
    RE: “Furthermore, he argues in favor of using taxpayer dollars as a means to leverage private funds for development at Fort McPherson, a possible consideration in a pre-Great Recession economy, but certainly not in 2015 when we can move this project forward without financial support from the City of Atlanta.”
    Why would Edwards or Maria want to “move this project forward”? They don’t seem to be in favor of the form of this project at all, so the fact that you can move it forward, as is, without city dollars is moot.Report

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  13. Alice03 says:

    The bottom line is Maria Saporta has never gotten over the fact that her preferred candidate  in the 2009 Mayor’s Race, Lisa Borders, LOST.  That’s who she wanted and that’s who she supported, so did David Edwards and so did Ayesha Khanna.  It’s been over 5.5 years.  GET OVER IT!Report

    Reply
  14. SaportaReport says:

    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. SaportaReport says:

    Thank you all for your feedback. SaportaReport welcomes a debate with Mayor Reed on the Fort McPherson-Tyler Perry deal point by point – it’s a debate long overdue.Report

    Reply
  16. DebAz says:

    Hmm….if you click on the link for the profiles for Alice03, Jimmie Lee, KentoriaC, Carolina jones, and Tiffany Smith you will see they all have only ever posted ONE comment on this site, the one on this thread. I had no idea the Mayor’s office was so adept at sock puppetting…
    Oh, and BTW Carolina jones, if you were truly from EP you would know it is East Point, NOT Eastpoint.Report

    Reply
  17. Tiffany Smith says:

    Maria Saporta’s “bias” is starting to show…Oprah and Tyler Perry aren’t credible enough for her but if it had been Ryan Seacrest and The Kardashians I bet she would have met them at the airport with pom poms.Report

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  18. Nicole Baxter says:

    Let me see….. A board comprised of elected, business, and community leaders make an intelligent decision to revitalize their community and Maria Saporta flies in to sabotage. I think I am starting to see a pattern.Report

    Reply
  19. mariasaporta says:

    Alice03 To set the record straight, as I journalist I do not support any particular political candidate – never have and never will as long as I am in this profession. 

    My columns on the missed opportunities to redevelop Fort McPherson in a way that will most benefit the City of Atlanta is all about the governance of the leaders who are in office today.Report

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  20. Horacio Romero says:

    Why did we sell and not lease the property? Why did they not follow the success of The Presidio Trust? Did the board consider it and rule it out? I did not find any comparison available online. Did I miss it? Or was it a lack of effort? An absence of ambition? For those attacking Maria, what’s your point? She is focused on the deal, not the Mayor. No slight on Tyler Perry, studios do go belly up over time.  Shouldn’t the property remain in the hands of the city in just such a circumstance? Did the Mayor truly write ‘it was deeply insulting to Perry?’ If so, WOW! That statement is exponentially more condescending than anything in Maria’s two columns. Tyler Perry is a successful businessman with thick skin. He does not need the Mayor trawling for sympathy on his behalf.Report

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  21. cc333 says:

    Nicole Baxter No. She asked pertinent questions about a seemingly secretive deal that could have a major impact on my neighborhood. IS Perry the best deal for Ft. McPherson? Maybe… but how about we conduct our City business in the daylight and not in a dark back alley.Report

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  22. cc333 says:

    Jimmie Lee Speak for yourself. I am a neighbor and IO wold LOVE to see housing, commercial development and a much more community based use for this property. Not keep it closed off for Tyler Perry.Report

    Reply
  23. Deborah Marie says:

    Maria Saporta
    This history should stay and the EPA which is use pays for the soil issue under superfund so Tyler Perry whom I like is getting this investment almost free and yes, why as I have said that the barracks and other old facilities can be used for temporary housing
    Where is the Foundation of Sam Nunn. Who saved the property in the first place.Report

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  24. cc333 says:

    “The property would remain accessible to the community through tours, job training and employment opportunities.”
    Yeah… that is not accessibility. That is paying for a tour or getting one of the few production jobs that this will create. If it creates any at all. After all, Perry already has his creative and production staff in place.Report

    Reply
  25. GlennJerome says:

    mariasaporta Alice03 You can’t have it both ways Maria. You can’t claim “My dear readers, please know this is my conscience speaking” and then claim elsewhere you  adhere  to a professional  credo which also supports objectivity. I don’t  think you or your columns are objective at all. I am glad the see the Mayor’s office response because it highlights so many issues I have with the reporting I see on this site.  

    It’s like how this site cut and pasted the Reed Administration press release but you didn’t link back to it’s source. Isn’t that plagiarism? I’m been on the web over 20 years and I think it’s dishonest. All searches for the press release have been clickjacked to this site because you didn’t link back to it’s source.   There’s a link in that source I wanted to read about the blogger used to discredit Perry  that’s omitted in your copy-n-paste version.  It was a press release. Not a personal letter to you.   I would never quote your work and not link back to your site even if you sent it via e-mail.  It was petty that you didn’t. I just realized that’s how the press release characterizes your columns too.  

    I live by TPS and they have outgrown the space.  The streetscape around the mall has been upgraded. I see workers and staff from TPS in the shops and eateries around here all the time. I don’t know much about this deal so far but I don’t trust this site as a credible or unbiased source.Report

    Reply
  26. DebAz says:

    GlennJerome mariasaporta Maria has stated many times that her “Maria Metro” pieces are not a news report but her personal feelings. So yes, she can have a professional credo of objectivity when it comes to news and still speak from her conscience when it comes to her “Metro” pieces. 
       You need to look up in the dictionary the definition of plagiarism. It is taking credit for a work that isn’t yours, it isn’t copying and pasting and not linking back. She clearly states that it is from the Mayor’s office and presented unedited. She can’t control how the internet links things. Besides, I just did a search for “reed press release fort mcpherson” on Google and the number one result is the press release on the city’s webpage. So no, all searches do NOT come up with this and the 1st result. 
        And I have to ask, how pray tell do you know you are seeing workers from TPS in places around the studio? Are they wearing a big scarlet TPS on them? Are they dressed as Medea? No one is arguing whether or not they have outgrown their space, or even if they made some streetscape improvements around it. The debate is should they get a sweatheart deal from the city at the possible (and probable) expense of the neighborhoods around Ft. Mac.Report

    Reply
  27. mnst says:

    Look at all of the comments, from people who have never posted before, all supporting the mayor. Notice how everyone who supports Maria has a real face and real identity, and everyone against her is a generic name with no photo attached. I don’t know if it’s the mayor’s office, or Perry’s company, spending their time making fake accounts to post comments on websites that criticize them, but it’s a pretty sad statement about their professionalism, whomever it is.Report

    Reply
  28. bcngator63 says:

    I own property in Old 4th Ward with an old warehouse on it which the tax assessor says is worth $5.5 Million per acre and Ft Mac is being sold for less than $100,000 an acre including a golf course.  What is wrong with this picture?Report

    Reply
  29. Cee says:

    I am still developing my position on this topic. Maria, can you tell me what viable re-development opportunities have been placed on the table (prior to Perry’s) in the 7 years that the property has been “vacant?”Report

    Reply

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