Confidential business plan for Fort McPherson’s future now an issue with reuse plan

By David Pendered

A new wrinkle emerged Thursday in the tense discussion about the fate of Fort McPherson – the contents of the confidential business plan that is to guide the fort’s conversion to civilian use.

The business plan is emerging as a contention because it has guided the redevelopment plan a state authority has approved for the fort’s land.

Over the past month, the redevelopment plan has come under fire from a non-profit group – Georgia Stand Up – that raises questions about whether the current plan will help or hurt the surrounding community.

Suddenly, the business plan that envisions construction of a biotech research facility near the center of the property is at the center of debate over how best to reuse a 488-acre site that the military is abandoning after more than 120 years.

Former Atlanta Planning Commissioner Michael Dobbins contends that such a facility likely will not be built in the foreseeable future. He suggests that neither the public nor private sectors has the resources to build and operate it.

Dobbins said the business plan should be made public, in part to facilitate a reasonable discussion over how best to proceed with planning for land use on the current fort. For example, perhaps the better approach is to craft plans that with more immediate promise of becoming reality, he said.

Dobbins now teaches at Georgia Tech, and his research into Fort McPherson’s conversion has been funded by Georgia Stand Up through a contract with Tech.

Jack Sprott, executive director of the state authority, said the business plan is evolving in consultation with the Army. He indicated that it will be made public only after the Army approves it.

“I have a fully prepared economic development application,” Sprott said. “It includes a business plan and all the elements needed for an EDC [economic development conveyance, in which the military authorizes disposal of property for less than fair market value].

“It needs to be tweaked because I don’t want to submit something cold to the Army and get a ‘No’,” Sprott said. “You get that first ‘No’ and you have a lot of work to do to get back to a ‘Yes’.”

The proposed biotech center is a sticking point in part because of its proposed location.

As such, it is becoming emblematic of the different approaches to planning for the fort’s eventual redevelopment and how well that redevelopment fits into the community.

The state authority was instructed to plan for the reuse of land within the confines of the fort’s walls.

Georgia Stand Up wants to consider a redevelopment plan for the fort’s property – as well create a plan that extends slightly into adjacent neighborhoods.

The state authority has approved a redevelopment plan that places the research facility more than a quarter-mile from either of two MARTA rail stations. They are located at either end of the fort.

In this plan, the facility is almost centrally located within the confines of the fort’s property.

Dobbins counters that proposal.

Dobbins suggests that much of the future development be concentrated around the MARTA stations. The idea of such density is to encourage people to travel by train or bus to the station and walk to and from their homes or places of works, he said.

Atlanta Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd is facilitating many of these discussions about the fort’s future, including Thursday’s meeting of the Community Engagement Subcommittee of the Fort McPherson Implementing Redevelopment Authority.

Sheperd said she will provide an appropriate amount of time to come up with a plan that addresses a myriad of concerns.

“We’re not going to do anything with this until we’re at the same page,” Sheperd said.

Potential Connectivity Points

The authorized redevelopment plan for Fort McPherson covers only the fort itself. This is another plan, commissioned by Georgia Stand Up, and circles show sites where the fort could connect to the neighborhood. Credit: Georgia Stand Up.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

3 replies
  1. spring says:

    Is this a final plan suggestion from STANDUP, or an interim plan? I see very few buildings, and mostly park space on this plan, which would be a sore waste of a good property.

    While some park space would be welcome, the Colonial Hills, Sylvan Hills, West End and Campbellton areas desperately need revitalization in the form of new business and new jobs, and with those jobs will come more new residents who will take pride in their homes (and God bless those of you who already do!).

    It’s neither the Army nor MILRA’s responsibility for anything other than the Mac property, but with careful preparation via good planning, businesses will come to the property, and redevelopment will follow outside as a result.

    I’m seeing articles from other sources that promotion of the property has already begun. I keep getting the impression at meetings that MILRA is handcuffed until September, out of professional (or even enforced) courtesy to the Army, but perhaps there are things in the works. I don’t profess to understand why they just can’t speak clearly, though. It sure would make things a lot easier for everyone involved if they could.

    I do agree, however, that placing the office space nearer MARTA is just plain common sense, especially in an age when we see people riding little scooters to fetch groceries, because they are too lazy to walk the aisles. Ease and convenience is the name of the game, or you’ll end up with vaguely creepy empty little buses circling the property, like they have over at Atlantic Station.

    And another suggestion. While I appreciate what StandUp and MAC try to do, if they’d spend less public meeting time thanking one another and more time getting down to business, perhaps they’d draw more attendance, get more done, and disseminate more information. Ditto for these folks who stand up at the official meetings and blow wind for five minutes before they get to their questions. It’s maddening. People come once, and don’t come back.

    And, finally, to the editors, this livefyre thing is a complete PITA. Ventage over.Report

  2. DustinDrabot says:

    To the earlier comment, there is plenty of retail, office & commercial in the plan, the diagram above is a really poor representation of the finished product.

    Regarding the Georgia Stand-UP arguement. They have some good ideas for the surrounding area but they are completely wrong about the community input that went into this plan and how beneficial it will be as drafted.

    I’m a member of the MILRA Community Engagement Subcommittee and I’ve written a response to the Georgia Stand-UP presentation. Check it out here:


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