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Getting to know Tyler Perry – a personal tale

Tyler Perry takes a selfie of us in his office on Sept. 26 when we had an official interview (Photo by Tyler Perry)

By Maria Saporta

Ever since former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed first gave Tyler Perry the opportunity to buy 330 acres at Fort McPherson five years ago, I have criticized the deal.

My greatest concern was a fear Perry would seal off  this incredible public treasure and create a fort inside a fort.

I published my most recent critique in a column titled: “Fort Mac developments in doubt due to messy backroom deals”

The next day, I got a message saying that Tyler Perry was trying to reach me.

When we connected, Perry said he had been reading my columns portraying him and Tyler Perry Studios in a negative light – saying things like he had gotten a “sweetheart deal.” It was obvious that I didn’t really know him.

I quickly suggested we should meet in person to talk things out and get to know each other.

“Great idea,” he quickly said.

Two days later, I found myself navigating the layers of security at Tyler Perry Studios to get to Tyler Perry’s office in the Dream Building.

The Dream Building – the headquarters of Tyler Perry Studios (Courtesy of Tyler Perry Studios)

We spent an hour talking on background about how he ended up buying the 330 acres for $30 million, his vision for the studio as well as some of my ideas of how he could be more engaged in the Atlanta community and how the eight-foot high fence around the 330 acres sends a message of keeping people out.

“I get it. You don’t like the fence,” Perry said pleasantly. Then he added the fence was temporary. Eventually he wanted to replace it with a wall – a beautiful wall.

“You and Donald Trump,” I chimed in.

Perry burst out laughing, actually putting his head on his desk. At that moment, I knew we had formed a special bond.

Then Perry said he wanted to show me all he had done since on the grounds since buying the property in 2015.

We got into a special all-terrain vehicle with Perry at the wheel. He showed me a suburban community, a trailer park, a diner, a farm house, a cabin – and then he drove by a full-replica of the White House, which was under construction. Although I had been told I couldn’t take pictures, I asked if I could take one of the White House. He said okay.

The White House at Tyler Perry Studios on Aug. 8 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Perry then took me by the historic district of Fort Mac. To my relief, I saw Perry was restoring the historic buildings and being a careful steward of the property. As we drove by the mansions where the top brass on the base lived, I said each of those homes could have sold for $1 million each.

“You did get a sweetheart deal,” I said.

“I got a good deal,” Perry conceded, stopping short of saying it was a sweetheart deal.

As we rode over acres of the former golf course – a beautifully landscaped vista – Perry told me that portion of his property likely would never be developed.

So why not let it be used as a park for the nearby community while reducing the enclosed perimeter of the studio property? Perry questioned who would be responsible for maintenance. If he were willing, I told him I was sure we could address those concerns.

We came up to the fence, and there was a group of about 20 people waiting to go to a taping of Divorce Court. When they realized they were face-to-face with the real Tyler Perry, one would have thought it was the Second Coming with one woman saying she couldn’t take a photo because her hands were shaking so much.

Tyler Perry shoots a selfie with adoring fans waiting at the -eight-foot high green fence (Photo by Maria Saporta)

So Perry got out of the vehicle and agreed to do selfies with the crowd. So much for what I had heard about him being stand-offish.

In those first two hours I spent with Perry, he was right. I did not know him. And in the past two months, I’m happy to say that I’ve developed respect and admiration for all he’s been able to do. One-on-one, Perry is absolutely charming – and one would never know he’s “an introvert posing as an extrovert.”

On Sept. 26, I sat down with Perry for an official interview to preview the grand opening festivities of the studio. I asked him if I could write about how he reached out to me and how we’ve gotten to know each other.

“Sure,” Perry said. “Here’s the thing, I don’t think that any of this was personal. What I see when I would read your articles, I saw a lot of passion, and a lot of longing to know. That’s what I saw. And I’m okay with that. Like how do we help each other understand what’s going on here. And I feel like that’s the same with some of the neighbors who were like, ‘What’s going on? What’s going on, what’s going on?’”

After our initial meeting, Perry sent me a text that afternoon:

Thank you for your time this morning It was great to get a chance to explore our differences and celebrate our love for what we both do. All the best. Talk soon. Tyler.

Less than two weeks later, he sent me photos of the work that had been done on the White House.

A text Tyler Perry sent me on Aug. 18 showing the progress that had been made on the White House.

Without a doubt, it was amazing to see how much progress had occurred in just 10 days. And the White House looked virtually completed by the time of the grand opening.

Perry is someone in constant motion – planning, producing, acting, writing, designing – and he gets impatient when he sees others not moving at a similar pace. In the four years he’s had the Fort Mac land Perry said almost no development has occurred on the other side of his fence.

If he had not gone into the movie business, Perry said he would have been an architect because he loves to design places. He certainly has been the master designer of Tyler Perry Studios.

As we were winding up the tour of the studio, I told Perry we were coming from two different places. His goal is to build the best movie studio he can. From my perspective, Fort McPherson was public land and should be an open amenity for the community and the city.

I told him that I would hope these two goals were not mutually exclusive.

Perry then looked at me and simply said: “Give me time.”

So to my new friend – Tyler Perry, I look forward to exploring our differences, finding consensus and one day seeing the fence come down.

The replica of the White House about a week before the grand opening on Oct. 5 (Courtesy of Tyler Perry Studios)

Tyler Perry takes a selfie of us in his office on Sept. 26 when we had our official interview (Photo by Tyler Perry)

Invitees to the opening night gala each had a personalized dinner menu on their plate

The back of the dinner menu had the emblem of the evening – Tyler Perry Studios – Imagine This

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Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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13 Comments

  1. Patricia Brewer October 8, 2019 6:27 am

    Today for the first time! I QUESTION my b4 description of who Mr no what was Mr Perry’s purpose for ….whatever!
    I Pray Now! God Please give him an Overflow of “YOU LORD”!
    HE SOWS WHAT he wants most! JUST LOVE! love ya Mr Perry!Report

    Reply
  2. Kenneth “Preme” October 8, 2019 9:52 am

    Rotfl. You sold your soul for an opportunity to rub shoulders with the rich and famous. #DeadReport

    Reply
  3. sandy October 8, 2019 9:54 am

    Great interview it’s the ATLANTA wayReport

    Reply
  4. Steve Williams October 8, 2019 10:11 am

    Thank you Maria for the article.

    The long delay came from several reasons. The plans and code needed to be redone from scratch with such a dramatic change with community involvement. No meeting of the board for months. His deal limited the money needed to allow the Fort Mac LRA the funding needed to move forward at a faster pace.

    I have toured his studio and it is amazing. Tyler Perry has done a wonderful job, but the nature of his business requires him to run it with the security and control that are in place. The walls are needed.

    I had hoped to see links on his website for venders once the property was sold, as many businesses have, to allow local venders to share in the development.

    Hopefully there will be more community involvement.

    Community ResidentReport

    Reply
  5. D October 8, 2019 10:55 am

    Sorry still don’t and will not trust that man until he makes up for all of the failed promises from the other places he has had Studio. When he first started looking at Fort Mac May things Candlelight how he promised some communities to revitalize them and bring them lots of money and then poof he left those communities high and dry. Also how he promised communities he would bring many jobs to the area which he did and then poof he was gone and so were those jobs. No, we’re not hearing about this because he’s bringing money and then people want to keep it quiet. Maybe he will do the same thing at Fort Mac maybe he won’t we will wait and see but he still owes many people in many communities the promises he made to them and he failed them.Report

    Reply
  6. David A Terry October 8, 2019 12:34 pm

    I am pleased to read about the dialogue that you and Tyler Perry established. Real estate development, job creation, and large public-private transactions by their very nature are controversial. Honest informed discussions are the path towards the greater good.

    As a former employee who signed an NDA, I should probably limit my commentary to that.Report

    Reply
  7. jon carlisle October 8, 2019 1:26 pm

    Crushed Maria . . . that you didn’t take me as your date.Report

    Reply
  8. Tammy Hurt October 8, 2019 2:20 pm

    Great article, Maria. Thank you for your professionalism, for your openness and for telling it like it is. We need more of this in our world – especially in Atlanta and in Georgia. Well done!Report

    Reply
  9. Noel M October 9, 2019 10:09 am

    As another astute commenter said, this is indeed The Atlanta Way. Good job for both of you trying to move past what could be a strictly adversarial relationship.

    As a lifelong southsider and current College Park resident, I have my own doubts about this project and the way it was carried out.

    But I’m also glad to hear about new life in this rather magical space. (Magical in the sense of being such a huge area of land, packed with historic buildings, freed up all at once this late in a city’s maturation.)

    I do worry and wonder about two things:

    1. The movie industry’s surge in GA is likely tied almost exclusively to the statewide tax credits extended to it. Should those ever be rescinded – or topped by a neighboring state – we’d likely see a quick exodus by movie-makers to other places. That’s a different business model than most industries.

    2. I live about 3 miles from the Studios, and have seen/heard almost zero outreach by the studios to the local community. I wish there seemed to be more interaction and job opportunities. And if they are there, I wish they were better publicized.

    Otherwise, I’m glad to see this communication and that it’s documented in your fine publication. Thank you.Report

    Reply
  10. Akazia October 9, 2019 10:53 am

    Knowing your years of journalistic integrity, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt that you didn’t get caught up in the rapture. Mr. Perry’s businesses acumen and charm exceeds his creative skills.
    Keep your friends close and your friendenmies closer.????Report

    Reply
  11. Ronald mack October 9, 2019 1:16 pm

    Its good u found out how mr. Perry is instead of judging him I can tell for myself just hearing him speak a humble manReport

    Reply
  12. Steve Murray October 10, 2019 1:19 pm

    Girl, you got played.Report

    Reply
  13. JM November 25, 2019 9:17 am

    Tyler Perry has been true to his word and revitalized that whole area. Naysayers didn’t know what they were talking about or simply jealous of the mans success. “Sweetheart” deal or not, he took what was given to him and made something out of it which can’t be said for the remaining unsold acres. I Respect Tyler Perry and to the haters i say GROW UP!!!!Report

    Reply

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