Fort Mac to buy out would-be developer, search for a new oneFort McPherson File/Credit: Kelly Jordan
By Maggie Lee
A top leader at Fort McPherson says he thinks redevelopment work on 144 acres at the shuttered base can start in 2020. But first, there’s the big job of finding a developer.
By a unanimous voice vote of all members present, the board of the Fort McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority voted on Thursday to start negotiating a severance in its relationship with Macauley Investments.
Macauley, in a joint venture with developer David Moody, was angling to build the first phases of what would eventually be a $760 million, 4-million-square-foot redevelopment. Work was to have started as early as this year on the development Macauley planned, which would include housing, restaurants, night life, events facilities and a performing arts venue and more.
The vote was “no indication of Mr. [Stephen] Macauley’s ability to perform as a developer, but it was in the mutual interest of this board, this agency and Mr. Macauley,” said Cassius Butts, chairman of the Fort Mac LRA board after the vote
Via text, Stephen Macauley, principal of the company, said that he is “deeply disappointed for everyone involved.”
It’s unclear what will happen to the plan developed by Macauley: if it might be the plan used by a new developer, if a new developer would rely on some other plan, or if there might be some other outcome. The Fort Mac LRA is looking to acquire the plans in its severance negotiations with Macauley. The cost of the severance is yet unsettled.
“Ideally … I would like to see 2020 with a shovel in the ground,” Butts said. “That may be a high expectation, but it is my expectation.”
Since even before Fort McPherson closed in 2011, there’s been talk about what to do with the base. Tyler Perry Studios bought about two-thirds of it in 2015.
Atlanta City Council member Joyce Sheperd represents the Fort Mac area and sits on the LRA board. She said the environment is very different now than 1o years ago, when pretty much nobody wanted to invest on the southside and the Great Recession was knocking back the economy.
“For the last 10 years why has nothing happened?” Sheperd asked rhetorically, answering her own question: “The recession pulled everybody back. Not only this base, but my community.”
She said the studio’s development has helped make the rest of the roughly 144 acres of the old fort a more attractive prospect.
Fort Mac LRA is already working on the first step in finding a new developer, which is to release a request for proposals.
“At this point, we don’t see anything in terms of law that will stop us from actually putting out an RFP within the next couple of months,” Sheperd said.
Then the authority has to review the proposals that arrive, and the board should eventually vote on one.
At least two or three calls a week have come in from interested developers in the roughly 10 weeks that he’s been on board, said interim Executive Director Alan Ferguson.
Macauley Investments and Fort Mac have been down a rocky road this year. Macauley asked in early 2019 for board permission to start work on the plan his company had been working on for more than a year.
Then the board went several months without meeting. Reports began to emerge that Atlanta City Hall was trying to sideline Macauley, that the authority’s executive director was questioning Macauley’s ability to finance the deal, and that Tyler Perry had some interest in the land.
In August, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms held a closed-door meeting with the board of Fort Mac. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Bottoms urged the board to sell the roughly 144 acres to Tyler Perry Studios for $30 million.
The board didn’t sell to TPS. It has in fact, since sold one key building for $17 million for the use of the federal Food and Drug Administration.
And Tyler Perry subsequently said he has no interest in the roughly 144 acres of the fort that are not already part of his studio. TPS does, however, have a right of first offer — the right to make an offer on the land if another offer arrives.
Meanwhile, the authority was broke enough earlier this year that its executive director, worried about water bills and making payroll, approached Atlanta City Hall, asking for an emergency loan for the authority.
In two separate transactions, the mayor and Atlanta City Council approved $1.8 million in loans to the authority this year.
But the authority is disputing a letter from the mayor’s office that demands about $4.8 million in payments for years of loans. By Fort Mac’s calculation, they owe the city about $1.5 million plus interest.