By David Pendered
The Army that still owns Fort McPherson and a state authority that wants to buy the fort, and flip most of it to filmmaker Tyler Perry, disagreed Friday in federal court over a critical point: When will the deal close?
The judge seemed to think the date important. A lawyer for the Army said: “No deal is currently imminent.”
The comments in U.S. District Court in Atlanta were the latest contortion in the proposed reuse of a military base whose decommissioning happened to occur at the end of the great recession. After eight years of digging a dry well in search of developers with money to invest, the state authority tasked with crafting a civilian use for the fort is caught between two film studios that see profits in a film industry burgeoning because of state tax incentives.
The Fort McPherson issue has landed in federal court because Ubiquitous Entertainment Studio’s LLC filed a lawsuit. The judge said he expects to issue a ruling, “fairly quicky,” on defendants’ motions to dismiss the case, though it may not be a full determination.
Ubiqiutous contends it was shut out of the deal at Fort McPherson after Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed asked Perry to develop studios on the decommissioned fort, and persuaded the state authority to dismiss Ubiquitous and deal with Perry. The primary defendants have issued strongly worded rebuttals.
As for the date of closing, the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority states with confidence the deal will go through Oct. 15. Maybe Oct. 17. But certainly on one of those two days.
The chairman, Felker Ward, said at a recent MILRA meeting that the Army assured him on a recent trip to Washington that the deal would go through on one of those dates.
However, one of MILRA’s lawyers said he learned Friday that the Army thinks it may be February before the Army’s ready to deal.
Michael King, the lawyer, said MILRA had, “no intention to deceive the court on that issue.” King said he first heard that date Friday morning from a federal lawyer.
Near the end of the hearing, the federal lawyer, Ellen Persons, emphasized a number of points:
- The Army still owns the fort;
- No one but the Army has a property interest in the fort;
- “No deal is currently imminent. The Army is considering an economic conveyance application.”
The application from MILRA outlines the economic benefits to be reaped by the fort’s conversion into a film studio, plus the development of the (about) 140 acres the state will retain for other buyers and uses.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Story said he agreed to expedite a motions hearing and conduct it Friday because he was led to believe the sale date looms. Otherwise, Story said, the lawsuit over Perry’s scheduled purchase would be considered months from now.
The debate hearing lasted about 2.5 hours. Story paused at 11 a.m. so he could participate in a naturalization ceremony.
“I’m not going to make them wait,” Story said of the crowd of future U.S. citizens.