Atlanta’s ‘can do’ spirit fading into ‘dysfunction junction’Alan Ferguson, interim executive director of the Fort Mac authority, stands with Atlanta Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd and Cassius Butts, chair of the Fort Mac board, in in October 2019, after the decision to part ways with Stephen Macauley. Renderings of the Macauley plan continue to be on display at Fort Mac's offices (Photo by Maria Saporta)
By Maria Saporta
Some days living in Atlanta is depressing.
Last Thursday (Oct. 17), was one of those days – marked by two events back-to-back.
It started with the Atlanta Press Club Newsmaker lunch with Meria Carstarphen, a leader who has helped turnaround the Atlanta Public School system since she became superintendent in 2014.
Despite getting amazing praise for her work from national to local leaders and even the APS’ elected board members, her days as superintendent are numbered because the board has decided to not renew her contract, which runs out June 30, 2020.
In her talk, it was clear Carstarphen still wants to do all she can to make sure all of the students attending Atlanta public schools can succeed either in college and/or career. She delicately sidestepped any questions about a conflict with the board by saying they were all working to make sure the turnaround continues.
Here we have a classic case of screwing up something that’s been working. Whatever happened to the adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”?
So the APS board has dug in its heels and begun the process to hire a search firm for Carstarphen’s successor. And that makes me sad for our city.
Right after the Carstarphen lunch, the board of the Fort McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority met when it voted to part ways with the Moody-Macauley team that had been working on a master plan for the development of 144 acres not owned by film mogul Tyler Perry.
Stephen Macauley’s firm, in partnership with builder David Moody, had been working with the surrounding community for more than two years to develop a master plan that was embraced by almost everyone involved.
Even Tyler Perry, who at different times considered buying the rest of land, said it was a great design and would love to see that vision developed.
So what did the board do? It decided to start all over and restart the process to look for another developer. It did not go into detail about why it was parting ways with Macauley-Moody, and it paid lip-service about how this was a great opportunity to move forward as a community.
But in reality, the move will only delay the future development of the 144 acres of Fort Mac. And this is not the first time the community has been let down by the Fort Mac board in more than a decade.
Several other attempts to secure a master developer, along with countless community meetings for residents to provide input on various plans, have failed or been discarded. And the sale of 330 acres to Tyler Perry for the bargain price of $30 million was a deal done between then Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Perry with little to no community involvement.
The Fort Mac board’s decision to buy out Macauley-Moody likely will cost the authority millions and millions of dollars. So instead of investing those dollars in improving the land that they own and implementing a plan that almost everyone embraces, we’re left with little hope of any progress occurring on the property in the foreseeable future.
Of course, Fort Mac leaders claim they could select a new developer and start construction in 2020. But remember the leadership at Fort Mac is tenuous at best. It’s being led by an interim executive director – Alan Ferguson – who continues to have a fulltime job at Invest Atlanta.
And its chairman is Cassius Butts, who had previously resigned his position, was asked by Gov. Brian Kemp to come back to make sure a deal to sell the Forces Command building so it can become a lab for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration went through.
Bottoms, who had urged the board to hold off on selling the building – supposedly on Tyler Perry’s behalf, lost in a 10-1-1 vote, which apparently made her administration so mad that it has sent a default notice to the Fort Mac board saying the Authority owes the city nearly $5 million.
Now if I’m a developer looking to partner with the Fort Mac board on a plan for the 144 acres, why in the world would I want to enter into that mess? Here’s the challenge. We have limited inspirational leadership in Atlanta right now – leaders who are working constructively to create a better city rather than tearing our town apart.
Wouldn’t we be far better off as a city if we had leaders who would work on a way for Tyler Perry, Steve Macauley, David Moody and financier Euclid Walker to implement the current master plan for Fort Mac?
On Sunday, I attended a celebration of life for Richard Stogner at Manuel’s. Several of us spoke of the true public servants we have lost – leaders who worked collaboratively to build a more vibrant city – George Berry, Spurgeon Richardson, James Stogner, Maynard Jackson and Ivan Allen Jr. They helped build Atlanta’s reputation as a “can do” city.
Some of those leaders are still with us – Shirley Franklin and Andrew Young (to name just two) – but they are no longer have the political power to fix our current malaise.
In short, it feels as though Atlanta has become dysfunction junction.
And yes, that makes me sad. We deserve better.
Note to readers:
At the beginning of her talk to the Atlanta Press Club, Meria Carstarphen read the following lines from the “I’m Determined to Be Somebody Someday” by R. Herbert Brewster. May we find inspiration in these words:
The present conditions and dark circumstance
May make it appear that I have not a chance.
The odds may be against me, this fact I admit.
I haven’t much to boast of, just a little faith and grit.
In spite of the things that stand in my way,
I’m determined to be somebody someday.