Races for governor, Senate could affect Tyler Perry’s purchase plans

By David Pendered

The implications on the races for Georgia’s governor and U.S. senator of the Tyler Perry proposal to buy most of Fort McPherson may be starting to take shape.

The turnout of more than 150 residents at a forum to discuss the future of Fort McPherson indicates the fort's neighbors have not grown weary, even after nine years of discussions. Credit: Donita Pendered

The turnout of more than 150 residents at a forum to discuss the future of Fort McPherson indicates the fort’s neighbors have not grown weary, even after nine years of discussions. Credit: Donita Pendered

The election is less than three weeks after Perry’s tentatively scheduled closing, on Oct. 15, for 330 acres of the fort. If Gov. Nathan Deal loses to Sen. Jason Carter, or if Michelle Nunn wins a Senate seat, there’s a chance that either victor may intervene to slow Perry’s deal.

At least, that’s the thought among some involved with the growing community protest that’s taking shape with an eye to slowing Perry’s project. And that’s why the size of the crowd that attended a forum last week is relevant.

Crowd estimates range from 150 to almost 200. That’s a large turnout for a community-based civic event, even by the standards of the Northwest Community Alliance, which can muster big crowds for its programs near Atlantic Station.

The size of the crowd is significant in part because it suggests neighboring residents have not grown weary of discussing how the 488-acre fort could be retooled into civilian use.

There was no audible dissent when state Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) raised the specter of legal action regarding the Department of Defense’ adherence to its procurement processes in regards to allowing Perry to purchase the property. Fort already has written a letter to the secretary of the Army asking him to block Perry’s proposal.

The conveners of the Aug. 14 forum to discuss Fort McPherson's redevelopment provided for volunteers to distribute materials. Credit: Donita Pendered

The conveners of the Aug. 14 forum to discuss Fort McPherson’s redevelopment provided for volunteers to distribute materials. Credit: Donita Pendered

The unspecified legal action Fort mentioned could add to potential controversy surrounding Perry’s campaign contributions to Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. In addition, Ubiquitous Entertainment Studios has filed a federal lawsuit claiming the proposal it submitted in 2013, to build studios at Fort McPherson, was waylaid in favor of Perry’s plan by the actions of the state’s McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority.

The current campaigns for Georgia’s governor and U.S. senator haven’t picked up on the issue of Fort McPherson’s redevelopment. Perry has contributed to Nunn’s campaign, but not to Republican candidate David Perdue, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Deal’s team has characterized the governor’s interest in Perry’s proposal as unrelated to a contribution and diretly related to job creation and support for Reed and the mayor’s support for Perry’s purchase.

Deal and Reed collaborated most recently on the Falcons stadium. The governor handed to Reed the issue of providing what turned out to be up to $200 million in public finance for the football stadium.

The issue of jobs to be created at Perry’s planned studio arose in the first two questions asked at the community forum, held Aug. 15 at Vicars Community Center, on Cascade Road in southwest Atlanta.

Fort McPherson redevelopment plan.

Filmmaker Tyler Perry would purchase about two-thirds of Fort McPherson, excluding portions on the top and right side of this original map for the fort’s redevelopment. The pink area is reserved for the Veterans Affairs facility. Credit: Fort McPherson Local Implementing Redevelopment Authority.

Dianese Howard, a community resident who helped convene the forum, responded that her view of the impact of Perry’s studio in the Greenbriar area does not lead her to hold much hope for the impact of a Perry studio at Fort McPherson.

“I don’t see a positive impact that has happened in the past,” Howard said. “Jobs, safety, good health – having a studio isn’t going to bring that to the neighborhood. Jobs … they’re going to import people in. The jobs will not go to you or your children.”

Some in the audience have been talking for nine years about how to retool Fort McPherson into a jewel of their community. Since 2005, when Congress voted to close the fort, residents have been talking and meeting and voting on redevelopment concepts.

To put that duration into perspective, Atlantic Station opened its first phase in 2005. That was just 10 years after Brian Leary sketched out his vision for redeveloping the 138-acre site of a shuttered old steel mill into a mixed use development in his 1995 masters thesis at Georgia Tech.

Most of the audience stayed the entire two hours in the still air of Vicars. They sat on padded stacking chairs placed with no room between as the forum’s sponsors pressed their three main points about the posture of Perry’s proposal to buy most of Fort McPherson and build up to 17 sound studios.

The points are:

  • The base has not been sold;
  • The negotiations have not been transparent;
  • Is this the best deal for taxpayers.

The next meeting of MILRA, the state authority overseeing Fort McPherson, is scheduled for Aug. 25. A number of residents left the forum saying they plan to attend.

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.

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