By Maria Saporta
A real life tug-of-war is playing out at the Fort McPherson Local Redevelopment Authority.
At stake is the future development of 144 acres of the 480-acre property that once was the Fort McPherson army base in southwest Atlanta.
The most pressing issue is for the Fort Mac LRA board to meet and approve the sale of the FORSCOM building to Easterly Government Properties for $17 million.
The building is supposed to become the new Atlanta lab for the Federal Drug Administration, a move of 350 well-paying jobs from Midtown to Fort Mac – a deal scheduled to close on Aug. 15.
Yet the board has failed to vote on the sale at its two meetings (held in July). So a board meeting had been scheduled for Aug. 8 at 1 p.m. to approve the deal.
Then on July 31, Alan Ferguson, who had just been tapped to serve as the interim executive director of the agency to replace Brian Hooker, sent out an email to the board saying:
Please be advised the August 8th Board meeting will be postponed and rescheduled for the week of August 26th. The postponement will allow staff time to prepare materials and information relevant to pending development and operational recommendations that will be submitted to the Board for approval consideration.
That hit a nerve with Cassius Butts, who has been the chairman of the Fort Mac LRA board since October, 2018. He quickly sent Ferguson an email that afternoon.
Per our conversation, I realize that you are new to this interim role. However, you do not have the authority to schedule, reschedule or cancel a board meeting. Per our operating documents, only the Chair can make this request and I did not.
Given that this notification has already taken place and board members have already begun to make changes to their schedules; please set up a new board meeting during the week of August 26th.
My apologies to everyone for any inconvenience that this might have caused.
Cassius F. Butts
Chair, Fort Mac LRA
According to people close to situation, there has been great confusion over who is calling the shots when even the board chair was not consulted.
That led Butts, who had been serving in a volunteer role, to submit his resignation to Gov. Brian Kemp on Aug. 1. The Fort Mac LRA board chair is a gubernatorial appointment because the LRA is a state agency. But that’s not readily apparent to the public. All signs point to the city of Atlanta – and specifically its mayors – who have exerted almost total control over the authority.
In his letter to Gov. Kemp, Butts alluded to differences of opinion surrounding the future of Fort Mac.
It is critical that the Chair of the LRA have the capacity to support the vision and direction of the Authority. Unfortunately, I am no longer able to do so.
According to people close to Butts, the former regional head of the Small Business Administration under President Barack Obama, was concerned that his reputation could be tainted by possible shenanigans between City Hall and the Fort Mac LRA board.
(Coincidentally, another board member – Lisa Smith of Georgia Power – also submitted her resignation the same day, but that was because her job is moving her to Columbus. She has agreed to stay on the Fort Mac LRA board until the end of August so there will be enough members to vote on proposals).
So what’s up? Why is the Fort Mac LRA dragging its feet on the Easterly/FDA deal?
And why is the authority holding up approving the Macauley master development plan of 144 acres on the Fort Mac property?
The short answer likely can be traced back to Tyler Perry, who bought 330 acres of treasured Fort Mac property for a bargain-basement price of $30 million – a deal orchestrated by former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
People familiar with the goings-on at Fort Mac (and much of this has been confirmed in disclosed texts between city and Fort Mac officials), Perry wants to take over both the FORSCOM building and the 144 acres. In fact, Perry had made an offer for the FORSCOM building about two years ago, and offered less than half what Easterly is offering.
Still there are forces at the city who seem to be placing pressure on the Fort Mac LRA board to scuttle both Easterly/FDA deal and the $700 million master development plan that Macauley has been working on for the past two years.
The pro-Perry pressure has been coming from Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (who has been vacationing at her home on Martha’s Vineyard), and more specifically, her confidante – Alvin Kendall, an attorney with a checkered past who appears to be exerting tremendous influence over City Hall – without a defined portfolio or official position.
Apparently, the move to cancel the Aug. 8 board meeting and possibly scuttle the Easterly/FDA deal has infuriated several Fort Mac LRA board members. And there is a rumor the Aug. 8 meeting is back on.
So I sent an email to Alan Ferguson on Sunday to find out when the next Fort Mac LRA meeting will be.
“I can’t confirm a date at this moment,” Ferguson responded immediately. “As soon as we have a confirmed date, we will make it public.”
Then I asked Ferguson to explain why he canceled the Aug. 8 meeting without checking with the board chairman. And I also asked him who had directed him to cancel the board meeting.
So let me boil down what I think is going on.
There’s a tug-of-war between those who want to move forward with both the Easterly/FDA plus the Macauley development and those who want to scuttle those deals in favor of Tyler Perry Studios.
Complicating the situation is that the Fort Mac LRA has run out of money.
It needs the $17 million from the Easterly/FDA sale to pay its bills. And if the Easterly/FDA deal moves forward, that increases the chances of the Macauley deal. The FDA decided to move to Fort Mac with the understanding the surrounding area would be developed according to the Macauley plan.
If the Tyler Perry subordinates succeed in killing both of the time-sensitive Easterly/FDA and Macauley deals, then we’re destined to have several years of uncertainty combined with a high likelihood of litigation from the betrayed parties.
It also would not surprise me if the controversy also catches the eye of the U.S. District Attorney’s office as well as state of Georgia officials, who ultimately are responsible for what happens at Fort Mac.
No matter what, it’s a mess – and it keeps getting messier.
A few recent SaportaReport stories and columns on Fort Mac: