Some Atlanta residents question direction of the city, fate of Fort McPherson

By David Pendered

Anyone who wanted to discuss Atlanta’s proposed comprehensive development plan at a meeting in a church Tuesday evening in Southwest Atlanta left gravely disappointed.

The crowd of more than 60 who crowded into a meeting hall at St. Peter Missionary Baptist Church wanted to talk about issues that nag them over the kitchen table every day.

Where’s the city’s plan to attract industrial jobs? Why does Atlanta plan to use property taxes to induce development when existing building have such high vacancy rates? Who’s looking after folks at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure?

“They’re going to build the Taj Mahal in the middle of a ghetto," said Edith Labipo.  Photo credit: Donita Newton

“They’re going to build the Taj Mahal in the middle of a ghetto," said Edith Labipo. Photo credit: Donita Newton

Don’t even talk about redeveloping Fort McPherson once the military vacates Sept. 15. Some of its neighbors think the city’s already cut a secret deal with developers.

“They’re going to build the Taj Mahal in the middle of a ghetto,” said Edith Labipo. “I think they’re going to push their plan down the public’s throat, and all the policies attached to it, so they get what they want.”

The crowd seemed to be made up of serious-minded people who wanted a rational discussion about their concerns. Speakers were concise and the audience was respectful.

But the issues they wanted to raise are difficult. And the crowd didn’t flinch as individuals turned a meeting that was to be a boilerplate civic event about Atlanta’s development plan into a forum to vent their concerns about the direction of the city.

They demanded answers to dilemmas from Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd and a small array of city planners:

  • Foreclosures are an everyday reality, said community leader Quinton Watson, who owns a company that does residential and light commercial construction;
  • New industrial jobs that come to metro Atlanta always seem to land in the suburbs, said Rhonda Johnson, who resides in the nearby Browns Mill Community;
  • Live-work-play developments may look good on paper, but just look at the vacancy rates – there’s not an overwhelming demand for their homes and shops, said small businessman Ron Shakie.

Sheperd said the city has a new chief of economic development who, just two weeks into the job, already is stumping for business leads at an international biotech conference in Washington. In addition, the planned adoption in July of the comprehensive development plan can be pushed back until September to give more residents an opportunity to comment on it, she said.

The back-and-forth continued until Deborah Scott stepped forward. Scott is executive director of Georgia Stand-Up, a grass-roots organizing operation that has offered an alternative plan for redeveloping Fort McPherson.

“What will happen on that 488 acres will impact you,” Scott said. “This document [the Georgia Stand-Up plan] will be delivered to the Army and the congressional representatives from this area. It will travel as far as it possibly can travel.

“I think there is a time and place for community organizing, and this is the time,” Scott said. “You have to organize and support each other.”

By this point, the clock was about to strike 9 p.m., the extended closing time that Sheperd had agreed to when it became clear no one wanted to wrap up at 8:30 p.m.

Once Scott concluded, most people got up quietly and departed. Those who stayed to talk spent another 30 minutes or so clarifying their concerns and their hopes before they trickled out of the church and into the twilit evening.

 

Atlanta City Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd (right) and Deborah Scott, executive director of Georgia Stand-Up, debate redevelopment plans for Fort McPherson. Photo credit: Donita Newton

Atlanta City Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd (right) and Deborah Scott, executive director of Georgia Stand-Up, debate redevelopment plans for Fort McPherson. Photo credit: Donita Newton

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.

12 replies
  1. JudyWalker says:

    My name is Judy Walker, a resident of the community immediately adjacent to Fort McPhersonI have been actively working to get community engaged in the redevelopment of Fort McPherson for almost five years.There are many components to this project and a true economic study of the community surronding the base has yet to be done by anyone. Many people dont understand that the City of Atlanta is not a developer and cannot site a deveolpment done by the city that was not a park or administration building. I was the first one to raise the question about connectivity with Ft Mac, Campbellton Rd. redevelopment and the CDP meetings that wre all sponsored by the City of Atlanta. They should all be put in a conversation together because one will impact the other, that issue still has yet to be addressed as a whole. As a neighborhood we need to be aware and involved with development in our community, finding ways to be both profitable and pleasing to neighborhood residents, businesses and developers. I have been the lone advocate for an endowment fund coming back to the community from the powers that be, it was only thru the efforts of myself and other community residents attending the Local Redevelopment meetings that resulted in the creation of the “Community Engagement Committee”, a group created by the LRA of representatives from neighborhoods surronding the base. I sincerely believe that this project has a regional imact and should constitute “true involvement” from community and neighborhoods.Report

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  2. Rosalyn Goseer says:

    FT Mac: The people who live around Ft Mac should be the first ones consulted about what should happen to Ft Mac. In these economic times when people are losing their homes and Atlanta has demolished most of its low income housing, Ft Mac would be the perfect place to put some low income housing. It is already fenced in and you could have great security there. Atlanta desparately needs low income housing. The homeless population is staggering even though its never discussed. Its as if Atlanta and the US don’t want to acknowledge the extremely high populations of low and no income people. So many people have lost jobs that many of those who used to be middle income are now low income so I’m not talking about winos and drug addicts. I’,m talking about good decent people who cannot pay the astronomical rents of the city of Atlanta because they now work part time jobs. I’m not talking about developers going in to change FT Mac so that they can make gobs of money talking about mixed development that never seems to get mixed. All the mixed development is more than most people working part time or on fixed incomes can pay. We need to leave it as is or only develop it to the point of adding grocery stores and other small business but allow the housing that’s there to serve the real public that is already around FT Mac which is a lot of no income and low income people. This should be about the people and not how much money can be made. Look at all the development that has cost a lot of money, they are half to less than half occupied because people can’t afford them. Allow this to be for the the poor and lower middle class. Remember all the Amens you gave in church about doing for the poor. NOW IS THAT TIME TO STAND UP FOR WHAT YOU SAY YOU BELIEVE IN.Report

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  3. Bill Fuller says:

    There has been a lot of study money spent by the planners and the plan sounds like a hodgepodge of nothing by the people who are taking the planning money. They are getting it because it is there and because they have connections to those who control the money. No one in the Fort McPherson community is financially benefiting from anything. Nothing meaningful has been planned and all that will be left is those occupants that were there before any planning was started and any money spent. I hope those in charge will be held personally financially and legally accountable when this planning process is done. Nobody cares about the community and the community will be left holding an empty bag with a deserted peice of non-producing and blighted property. After all, it’s just Southwest Atlanta. It’s not like it is North Atlanta or Buckhead.Report

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  4. Horace Henry says:

    With the Beltline money and perhaps other monies coming to the Fort McPherson area I see the potential for enlightenment both economically and financially for residents in and around the Ft. Mac installation once it is vacated. The physical plant is already in place. I say, develop what we have there and transform it into a markatable, attractive, and salable intity which will be financially beneficial to both the city of Atlanta and the residents in the area. This is doable, and it is sustainable. The land triangle, which is bordered by Lee Street, Campbellton Rd., and HWY. 166 already has a golf course, a small lake, tennis courts, meeting facilities, swimming pools, a gymnasium, living accommodations, and a grocery store already in place. These are attributes that are sure to attract people, that will surely bring people into the area once opened up to the public. I see it is almost like the imaginary “Emerald City” or the magical city of “OZ” and I see no reason why the residents, who have been living in the area for years, should not directly benefit from this redevelopment. What I suggest is that the City of Atlanta and all others involved, click their heels together three times, and develop a sensible, comprehensive, and doable plan which includes everything within that magic triangle, including all that tract of land directly across Campbellton Road, which extends from Lee Street all the way to Greenbriar Parkway. With proper redevelopment in this area, we would revitalize the complete Campbellton road corridor, and this type of redevelopment could surely be the beginning of that much needed renaissance in SW Atlanta. I know because I live in SW Atlanta and contrary to popular belief, it is not dead…it’s only “sleeping”.Report

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  5. I.M. Spence-Lewis M.D.d says:

    Having attended the Tuesday June 28th meeting regarding Fort McPherson at St Peters Missionary Baptist Church there is concern that your article did not note that a request was made that Plans for Fort McPherson include a museum to recognize contributions of African Americans since the inception of the Fort.

    Further it has come to my attention in a written communication that Professor Michael Dobbins formerly employed by the City of Atlanta and now with Georgia Tech will speak about Plans for the Fort on the 7th and 8th of July. Professor Dobbins spoke at a Georgia Stand-Up meeting which I attended. I do not recall that he made any reference to a museum being in the Fort Mac Plans.

    Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

    I.M. Spence-Lewis M.D.Report

    Reply
  6. Barb Runyan says:

    I don’t see my neighborhood as a ghetto. I want a nice, middle class development and not a strip mall. I see the neighborhood becoming more upwardly moble; finally southwest’s time has come. I was unable to attend this meeting, but have attended many in the past. I want and expect property values to rise. I want people to fight over moving into our neighborhoos. I want people to send children to neighborhood schools where everyone can get a good education. All development will bring jobs to those who will work and top jobs will go to those with skills. When stores open, jobs with be there as well, and shoping in the neighborhood will be a joy.Report

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  7. AFav says:

    I hope that they are able to do with the Ft. Mac redevlopment what they have down with both the Atlantic Station and Moreland Ave area. Sure they will not be able to accommodate everyone desires but the area desperately needs a life line. I have attended a few of the meeting regarding the redevelopment and I hope to see many of the thing that were purposed; a farmers market style grocery store, community gardens, dog parks, store fronts along Lee St, event parks, the biomedical center, VA Hospital, and extensions of GA Tech University all sound like things that will only enhance the community. I look forward to the employment opportunities it will bring. (I also hope that the city doesn’t use Ft Mac as a venus to deal with Atlanta Low Income Housing issues. I do have idea’s for how that should be handle but this is not the venue to voice those here. I am all for the change and hope that with it more people will want to live in the East Point area. I would love to see it turn into an area similar to Virginia Highlands.Report

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  8. Rosalyn Goseer says:

    Low income and lower middle income housing is what needed in this area. Look around you. All over Atlanta you have high priced development that is empty because people can’t afford it. They can’t get the loans needed to buy it. This area is not lacking in Middle Income housing. There are plenty of empty houses everywhere you turn. What is lacking is affordable housing and good small shopping venues. This is what should go to Fort Mac. Black people have listened so much to developers who just build this expensive stuff that left half full while they take their 30 pieces of silver and run. They know the Black Community in this economy and bank non lending are not going to be able to qualify for loans for these developments. What Black people don’t want to admit is this is a low to lower middle income community and that is the type of housing that should be in Ft Mac with the opportunity for small business owners to create business. These are the type of people who live around Ft Mac. Ft Mac already probably has facilities that would need little development that would accoomodate this type of community. Yeah you can bring in developers who will make a lot of money to build expensive middle income housing but it will just sit there empty like so many other developments in the city right now. Why do Black people fight so hard against low income housing. There are many low income housing complexes that are drug free and crime free right here in the Metro Atlanta area, contrary to popular belief. Low income housing is what is desparately needed by Black people and especially by Atlanta.Report

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  9. Kim Scholes says:

    Regardless of the outcome, I want this gem of historical significance for the city of Atlanta to remain intact. This site – its older office buildings and residences – are part of the National Register of Historical Places (http://www.nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com/GA/Fulton/state4.html) and should be treated accordingly. Atlanta should promote this site’s eventual development as a model for sustainable, functional architectural preservation and green space; a treasure for a city whose previous thirst for progress obliterated its need for sound city planning and reverence for our past.Report

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  10. Burroughston Broch says:

    @ Rosalyn Goseer
    Who is to build the low/middle income housing that you propose? The Atlanta Housing Authority? Developers? Others?

    @ Kim Scholes
    Who is to pay to preserve Ft. Mac until the eventual(?) development you propose? The taxpayers? It is very easy to be compassionate and generous with other people’s money.Report

    Reply
  11. Curious says:

    @ Rosalyn Greer

    What SW Atlanta needs is jobs! This site is the perfect opportunity to bring jobs to this community. There is already plenty of inexpensive housing in this part of town. And the plans submitted to the City by the Redevelopment Authority also have housing set aside for low-income and homeless families. The household income in this area is already too low to attract decent retailers. If you want decent shopping, restaurants, etc. then you need a project that will generate jobs!!Report

    Reply
  12. kimscholes says:

    Correct me if I am wrong, but the entity who buys the buildings must pay for it – it’s the law, c. 1966 (better be one with deep pockets because any time you make adjustments to such buildings, you must get federal approval to do so. Read all about it: http://www.nps.gov/nr/regulations.htm (which is why it might be a good idea to have a federal entity own it). I doubt very much taxpayer money will be maintaining the property in the manner to which it’s been accustomed until such time as new owners take over, but the BRAC officer or the NPS might be your best bet at answering those specific questions. If I pay taxes, I’d like to believe that I am part owner of its destiny, too – thank you!Report

    Reply

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