Fort McPherson area rich in human rights history, poor in redevelopment

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.

East Point resident Juanita Crater said she hopes Fort McPherson is redevelopment before the federal government finds other uses for it. Credit: Donita Pendered

East Point resident Juanita Crater said she hopes Fort McPherson is redeveloped before the federal government finds other uses for it. Credit: Donita Pendered

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.

This shuttered business across Campbellton Road from Fort McPherson is little changed in appearance since 2012. Credit: Donita Pendered

This shuttered business across Campbellton Road from Fort McPherson is little changed in appearance since 2012. Credit: Donita Pendered

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:

Campbellton Plaza is a busy retail center located midway between Fort McPherson and I-285. Credit: Donita Pendered

Campbellton Plaza is a busy retail center located midway between Fort McPherson and I-285. Credit: Donita Pendered

Transportation

  • Planned: Public infrastructure and transportation improvements;
  • Completed: Nothing reported.

Housing

  • Planned: Build 5,050 housing units;
  • Completed: Nothing reported.

Commercial

  • 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.

Job creation

  • 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.
The old Forces Command at Fort McPherson is shielded by barricades and vegetation. Credit: Donita Pendered

The old Forces Command at Fort McPherson is shielded by barricades and vegetation. Credit: Donita Pendered

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.

Atlanta police maintain a presence along Campbellton Road near Fort McPherson. Credit: Donita Pendered

Atlanta police maintain a presence along Campbellton Road near Fort McPherson. Credit: Donita Pendered

According to this historic marker, Fort McPherson predates Atlanta and was established shortly after the Campbellton community was formed to the west of the military post. Credit: Donita Pendered

According to this historic marker, Fort McPherson predates Atlanta and was established shortly after the Campbellton community was formed to the west of the military post. Credit: Donita Pendered

 

Campbellton Plaza is a retail oasis along the sparsely developed Campbellton Road corridor. Credit: Donita Pendered

Campbellton Plaza is a retail oasis along the sparsely developed Campbellton Road corridor. Credit: Donita Pendered

The grounds appear to be maintained in front of homes along Staff Row, in Fort McPherson. Credit: Donita Pendered

The grounds appear to be maintained in front of homes along Staff Row, in Fort McPherson. Credit: Donita Pendered

This food market with bars on the windows, doors, is part of the gateway to Campbellton Road near Fort McPherson. Credit: Donita Pendered

This food market with bars on the windows and door is part of the gateway to Campbellton Road near Fort McPherson. Credit: Donita Pendered

This map from 1834 shows a road connecting Decatur and Campbellton before Atlanta and Fulton County were created. Credit: georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu

This map from 1834 shows a road connecting Decatur and Campbellton before Atlanta and Fulton County were created. Credit: georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu

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.

2 replies
  1. JWK says:

    It depends on what Ms. Crater means by “soon”. If something happens “soon” that means that the planners, consultants, observers, politicians, political wanna-be’s and do-gooders will be out of work! This has to have been the most over talked about redevelopment project in the history of the world. We could have built the pyramids in this time.Report

    Reply
  2. Lisa B says:

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    The recent announcement regarding
    Tyler Perry’s proposal to build studios on Southwest Atlanta’s Fort McPherson
    is good news for Atlanta. Adaptive reuse of this 500 acre site has been a
    question mark hanging over the city for years at a time when economic
    development is desperately needed, so it’s a relief to see someone like Perry,
    who has a track record for successful development projects, step up to the
    task.
    However, the process has not been without
    its problems. Over the years, Mayor Reed’s administration has struggled with
    transparency efforts, including the recent awarding of concessions contracts at
    Hartsfield Jackson airport, which are hailed by the administration as the most
    transparent process in city history, a claim found by politifact as just half
    true. The Fort McPherson project faces similar scrutiny. A proposal for reuse
    submitted by Atlanta Attorney Daniel Meachum was quickly scuttled by the MILRA,
    leading Meachum to question the process. Meachum, known for representing
    celebrity clients (he was fired by Michael Vick in his infamous dog fighting
    case, and also represented actor Wesley Snipes in a tax evasion suit which
    landed the actor in a 3 year prison term) is upset about the process, though
    it’s not clear what his proposal was or if he actually had the needed resources
    to pull of a project the size and scope of Perry’s.
    Regardless, the MILRA must be more
    accountable, beginning with more community representation in its decision
    making process. Perry is a longtime supporter of Reed, and the deal does smack
    of favoritism. As far as Meachum is concerned, there is no apparent mechanism
    for appeal, which is also troubling. Meachum
    is planning to sue, and if a lawsuit is what it takes to get the city fully
    committed to real transparency in its dealings, then I applaud his efforts.Report

    Reply

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