By David Pendered
Juanita Crater knows what she doesn’t want to happen at Fort McPherson – for redevelopment to dawdle so long the federal government decides to use the post to house large numbers of the homeless, or undocumented immigrants.
History both recent and distant underscores the relevance of concerns raised by Crater, a senior citizen of East Point who lives near the fort and is viewed as a local historian. The fort and its surroundings are not thriving; federal law requires the site to house the homeless; the fort has served as a stockade.
Meanwhile, as Atlanta looks to develop a niche in historic tourism, there appears to be great potential in the Campbellton Road corridor that flanks the fort. The story of human rights in this area involves the region’s earliest white settlers and treaties with Creek Indians.
The historic Campbellton Road forms the fort’s northern boundary before winding along rolling, wooded hills toward the Chattahoochee River.
An 1834 map shows this road. It linked Decatur with the former settlement of Campbellton, on the banks of the Chattahoochee River, at a time before Atlanta and Fulton County existed. The road passed through the unnamed tract where the precursor of Atlanta would be founded in 1837 and named as such in 1845, according to Georgia archives and other Georgia historic records.
Campbellton is a former settlement named for Col. Duncan Campbell, and it was the focus of Campbell County, founded in 1828. The colonel was known for negotiating the 1825 treaty with Creek Indians in which they ceded their land in Georgia and Alabama. This treaty was later deemed fraudulent, and the 1826 Second Treaty of Washington ended as well with Creeks ceding their land in Georgia, according to Alabama archives.
Campbellton faded after residents convinced a railroad to bypass their town and it routed its tracks through Fairburn. Campbell County faded as well, and during the Great Depression joined Milton County in merging with Fulton County.
The post remained a constant reminder of the nation’s interests. During World War I, German sailors were held at Fort McPherson. In the 1930s, picketing textile workers were detained there, according to accounts.
Today, Campbellton Road shows little evidence of this history, or of Atlanta’s efforts to reinvigorate the broader Campbellton Road community. The area does have pockets of vibrant shopping centers, but there’s more than a share of buildings that are boarded up, and some that possibly are abandoned.
Developers have resisted almost any temptation to build projects in a tax allocation district created in 2006 with support from three governments – Atlanta, Atlanta public schools, and Fulton County. The TAD meanders along Campbellton Road from Fort McPherson west beyond I-285 before ending near Fairburn Road. So little development has occurred that the TAD has generated less than $3 million that can be plowed into redevelopment efforts, typically in the form of new roads, parking, and sidewalks, according to a city audit.
Everest College is the only development project in this TAD cited in the 2012 report by city Auditor Leslie Ward. The college, an affiliate of Corinthian College, Inc., renovated 63,000 square feet of vacant space in the old Cub Foods building near Greenbriar Mall.
This is the list of goals and outcomes for the Campbellton Road TAD, as reported in the 2012 audit, which is the latest available public accounting:
- Planned: Public infrastructure and transportation improvements;
- Completed: Nothing reported.
- Planned: Build 5,050 housing units;
- Completed: Nothing reported.
- Planned: Retail, 985,000 square feet; Office, 1.7 million square feet; Research park space, 900,000 square feet;
- Completed: Retail, 63,000 square foot renovation by Everest College; nothing reported for office and research park space.
- Planned: Unspecified jobs in professional, business and service industries in the new developments.
- Completed: Nothing reported, Everest College was to create 95 jobs, but Invest Atlanta has not reported any final figures.
Back at the meeting of the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority, Crater made it clear that she takes great pride in the fort and its surroundings. It wasn’t that long ago that the fort bustled with soldiers who supported nearby shops and restaurants. Jobs were available in the nearby industries.
“I don’t want to see this post get run down,” Crater said. “I’m not against homeless people, but I don’t want thousands of them here. The next thing, if you don’t start something soon, is you’re going to have all these illegal immigrants out here – and I don’t want that.”
Crater’s concerns about immigrants follow published reports that military bases in Oklahoma, Texas and California now are providing care and housing for more than 2,700 unaccompanied minors who entered the U.S. without documents. WSFA.com asked if Fort Benning could be a destination and reported July 9 that the base has not been notified.
“My main concern is I want to see something get started out here very soon,” Crater said.