Lawsuit challenges Tyler Perry’s plans for Fort McPherson as an insider deal

By Maria Saporta, Dave Williams and Doug Sams

An Atlanta entertainment company planning a movie studio and entertainment area at Fort McPherson filed a federal lawsuit Thursday challenging Tyler Perry’s proposal for a similar project.

Lawyers for Ubiquitous Entertainment Studios LLC (UES) claim the firm wasn’t given a fair chance to redevelop the site halfway between Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and downtown Atlanta.

The McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority (MILRA) met on Thursday afternoon for a regular board meeting, when they heard several comments from community members who had concerns about Tyler Perry deal.

After the meeting,  both the chairman of the authority, Felker Ward, and the executive director, Jack Sprott, were asked about the lawsuit, but they said they had not seen a copy of it and so they could not comment.

When asked about the status of the negotiations with Tyler Perry, Ward also said: “No comment.” The board had gone into executive session for about an hour before reconvening for a short period in a continuation of the public meeting.

That’s when a couple of board members alluded to the possibility that the next meeting of the authority could be really significant.

One board member Kenneth Deleon suggested that they move the meeting to the evening instead of the regular time of 1 p.m. to make it easier for the general public to attend. The rest of the board agreed, but no date had been set as of press time.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who brought the Tyler Perry deal to the authority, had previously said wanted to have an agreement in place by the end of July.

But that was before the UES lawsuit had been filed.

UES, working with developer Egbert Perry, began meeting in late 2011 with representatives of the authority in charge of redeveloping the 488-acre site closed by the Pentagon as part of the last round of federal base closings.

Negotiations continued throughout 2012 and 2013, and the company made a formal offer to buy 80 acres of the property in December 2013. However, the company was told early this year the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority (MILRA) could not negotiate a deal because the U.S. Army had not yet turned over title to the land, according to the lawsuit.

In mid-June, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced that the city and MILRA had entered talks to sell land at Fort McPherson to Tyler Perry by the end of July. The authority’s board then voted to begin formal negotiations with Tyler Perry Studios.

Perry plans to purchase 363 acres at the site for $33 million.

“MILRA has … unilaterally selected a sole source developer … to become the acquirer of all of the Fort McPherson property,” the lawsuit states. “[The authority], its officials, agents and representatives have denied UES a fair opportunity to compete in favor of this sole source award and have rebuffed UES’s efforts to remediate their arbitrary and capricious government conduct.”

The lawsuit claims the authority has violated its due process and equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution.

The defendants in the case include MILRA, the U.S. Army, Tyler Perry and Tyler Perry Studios LLC.

Dave Williams and Doug Sams are staff writers for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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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