By Maggie Lee
The public authority that’s overseeing the redevelopment of Fort McPherson has a new interim executive director. The turnover at the top comes amid media reports of a serious conflict between the authority and a key contractor, plus revelations of cash flow problems.
The board of the Fort McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority unanimously voted on Wednesday to accept the resignation of Executive Director Brian Hooker and to thank him for his years of leadership.
While the board conducts a national search for a permanent leader, Hooker will be replaced on an interim basis by Alan Ferguson, the senior vice president of community development at Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development authority.
As for the reason for Hooker’s departure, Fort Mac LRA spokesman Mark Hayes said he could not comment on personnel matters.
Asked whether the turnover at the top would slow down redevelopment at the site, Hayes said that it wouldn’t to his knowledge.
“But anytime there’s a transition at the top of leadership, you can expect there may be some hiccups”, Hayes said. “But that’s why Mr. Ferguson is here, because of his experience in community development … and to try to keep the transition as smooth as possible.”
So it will be next month at the earliest that the board may take up two much-anticipated items.
One is the sale of the former Forces Command HQ building to a developer who wants to renovate it into an office for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA move was announced in June.
The board also has yet to make a decision on who is going to redevelop the roughly 145 acres of the shuttered fort that have yet to be reused.
In 2017, the board selected Macauley Investments to develop a master plan. Sketches and plans now show about 4 million square feet of office, residential and shopping space. Macauley now wants a vote to give them the go-ahead for the next step: works on the site.
Tyler Perry Studios is also interested in the site. Tyler Perry Studios has a “right of first offer” on the remainder of the fort site: it has the right to make an offer for the land if somebody else does.
Macauley said it had an agreement in principle with the Fort Mac LRA in February. However, the Fort Mac LRA board went three months without a meeting after that.
SaportaReport has reported on indications that Alvin Kendall, an attorney close to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, was trying to sideline Macauley. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported that Fort Mac LRA’s executive director Brian Hooker was calling Macauley’s finances into question.
Meanwhile, the authority has had cash flow problems this year that led to worries about how utilities might be paid, according to internal texts released under the Georgia Open Records Act.
“Also please help with getting the funding nod from the Mayor — morale is starting to waiver among our staff here. And we could face a larger issue with our neighbor if we can’t pay our utilities, as they [Tyler Perry Studios] are connected to our water, ” Hooker texted to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ Chief of Staff Carmen Chubb on March 26 this year.
Hooker texted again on April 4: “We now have urgent needs — without our bridge loan, LRA’s last payroll is 5/17.”
On May 8: “We exhaust our funds on next Friday 5/17.”
At a July 11 board meeting, Fort Mac LRA’s controller presented a $2.6 million operating budget for the fiscal year that starts in July. Robert Mosby also said that the LRA had received a city loan for $500,000 to help make up for a shortfall in the fiscal year that’s about to close. He also said that the Authority had had to go back and commission audits that had been missed for 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Meanwhile, hours before the Wednesday board meeting, a group of civil rights leaders held a press conference outside Fort Mac, calling for the ouster of Macauley.
“The city needs to fire him, kick him out. He’s had two years,” said Joe Beasley, a veteran civil rights leader and former southern regional director of the National Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.
Beasley and others said that something needs to be done with the site, and if Tyler Perry Studios is the owner, that’s fine with them.
“This is prime property and we want something to happen here that fulfills what we’ve been expecting,” Beasley said.