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.
A star-studded group of lawyers is set to appear Friday in federal court in Atlanta to begin the debate over whether Tyler Perry got a sweetheart deal to buy most of Fort McPherson to build a film studio.
Positioned against Perry as the plaintiff’s lawyer is Tony Axam, a noted death penalty attorney who once was called to serve on the defense team of convicted serial killer Wayne Williams – until Williams fired him without explanation at the outset. Axam specializes in complex business litigation, as well as capital and criminal defense.
Leading Perry’s defense is Larry Dingle, a former Atlanta police officer who earned his law degree from Georgia State and rose through the ranks at Atlanta City Hall during the terms of former mayors Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young to the positions of department head and city clerk. Dingle specializes in local government law and land use.
Tyler Perry’s plans to build film studios at Fort McPherson must coexist with plans to help the homeless that were submitted to the federal government before the great recession and approved in 2011.
The post-recession economy has created challenges to comply with the original homeless plan. Business models that were to pay for the housing may no longer exist. Some service providers and regulatory agencies may have changed their focus.
Consequently, the plan will be implemented in ways that are yet to be determined, according to members of the state authority overseeing the fort’s conversion to civilian use – including the sale of 325 acres to the filmmaker for $30 million.
The board overseeing the redevelopment of Fort McPherson offered an olive branch to the residents of the adjacent community Monday. The reception was chilly, at best.
“What is being done really doesn’t pass the smell test,” said West End resident Kay Wallace. “Come on, guys. We deserve better and you’ve got to give us better.”
One issue that was barely mentioned in a long-awaited presentation on the pending deal to sell most of the fort to filmmaker Tyler Perry is the status of fort’s environmental clean-up. A portion of Perry’s payments will be collected based on when the Army remediates the property and turns it over for civilian use, according to a lawyer for the board.
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 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.
Tyler Perry’s proposal to buy most of Fort McPherson went by the code name “Coltrane” for at least a month before a tentative deal was announced last week.
“Coltrane” has clear expectations for the former base – including that “the wall” not be torn down, despite persistent requests from residents that the security wall be removed, according to minutes of meetings with the fort’s concerned neighbors.
There’s a discrepancy over the amount of land to be included in the deal. Either 449 acres is involved in the tentative deal, or 474 acres are involved. Both amounts have been cited in public.
The plan to sell most of Fort McPherson to filmmaker Tyler Perry has a long way to go, much of it behind closed doors, before the deal can close.
“We have a lot of details to get this to home base,” said Felker Ward, who chairs the state authority handling the deal.
The state authority has voted against a motion to update its plans for the fort’s civilian use and to keep the public involved in the process. Ward said these matters already are the authority’s job and the plan updates will be handled by Rick Padgett, who is a seasoned development consultant the authority hired Aug. 7 to help close the deal with the Army by Oct. 15.
State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) has asked the secretary of the Army to block the conversion of Fort McPherson into a movie studio, as proposed by filmmaker Tyler Perry.
Fort quickly pivoted to the political side of the debate over the fort’s reuse, after beginning his letter to the secretary with a recount of the public process that ended with the approval of a plan to build a mixed-use community on the grounds of the old fort.
To consider a studio now, without any public review, is, “the old ‘bait and switch’ that has been used for centuries to exclude people of color and the powerless from important economic decisions,” Fort wrote in his letter to Army Secretary John McHugh.
A notice posted today indicates the proposal by filmmaker Tyler Perry to buy most of Fort McPherson could be decided as early as Friday.
The board that oversees the fort’s conversion to civilian use today called a special meeting Friday at 11 a.m. for the purpose of: “Consideration of resolution concerning purchase and sale of real estate.”
The community is not going along quietly. Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) has called a press conference Thursday at 10 a.m. and residents have called a rally for Friday. Meantime, Perry’s lawyers responded July 28 to a lawsuit challenging his purchase of the property.
The state authority overseeing the conversion of the shuttered Fort McPherson military base into a civilian use met behind closed doors for two hours Thursday before emerging to say a final deal could be secured in two to three weeks.
“We are in the process of negotiating, at this time, a possible sale,” said authority Chairman Felker Ward. “We hope to be able to conclude those negotiations in the next two to three weeks.”
One issue yet to be discussed in public is how the proposal brought by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to sell most of the fort to filmmaker Tyler Perry will affect the existing approval by HUD of a plan to retool the fort into a science center.
Entertainment entrepreneur Tyler Perry contributed to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s campaign war chest that now contains just over $1.2 million, according to a campaign finance disclosure dated Tuesday.
Perry’s contribution of $2,500 on Dec. 17 was part of the $363,690.13 listed in itemized cash contributions Reed raised during the final reporting period of 2012, the report shows. The report shows an addition $20,233.44 in in-kind contributions, plus $2,020 in cash contributions of amounts of less than $100 each.
Kevin Rathbun Steak, on Krog Street, was one of the places Reed’s campaign spent a portion of the $176,459.22 in itemized expenditures, the report shows. Rathbun was paid $273.20 for two events listed as “official business meeting(s)” in September and October, the report shows.