By Maria Saporta

A war of words has escalated between opposing sides of a federal lawsuit over Tyler Perry’s plans to build a major movie studio complex on 330 acres of what used to be Fort McPherson.

As Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Tyler Perry announced on Friday, Aug. 8 that they had reached an agreement for the film-maker to buy 330 acres for about $30 million, the mayor reacted aggressively when he was asked about the federal legal proceedings objecting to the deal.

“I think the lawsuit is total garbage, and I think the person who filed it is going to lose,” Reed said. “I think it’s outrageous. I think that the person who brought it is going to be embarrassed by it.”

Tyler Perry listens to Mayor Kasim Reed at MILRA board meeting (Photos by Maria Saporta)
Tyler Perry listens to Mayor Kasim Reed at MILRA board meeting (Photos by Maria Saporta)

The lawsuit was filed by Ubiquitous Entertainment Studios LLC (UE Studios), and Atlanta attorney Daniel R. Meachum.

For the past three years, Meachum has been working on plans to develop a movie studio and entertainment complex on up to 85 acres of land on Fort McPherson, which encompasses about 480 acres of land between downtown and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

According to the UE Studios lawsuit, in early 2014, officials from the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority (MILRA) told UE Studios that they could not negotiate with UE Studios or any other prospective buyers until they owned the title of the property from the Army.

So when Reed announced that he had reached a tentative agreement with Tyler Perry to sell most of the Fort’s property to the nationally-known film-maker, UE Studios filed suit questioning the process of the transaction as well as the way it had been treated.

Reed, however, was publicly dismissive and combative when talking about the litigation, saying he could talk about it because he had not been named in the federal lawsuit.

Atlanta City Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd shares a laugh with Tyler Perry at MILRA board meeting
Atlanta City Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd shares a laugh with Tyler Perry at MILRA board meeting

“For this individual to bring this kind of claim, it’s silly, it’s baseless, it’s garbage, and he is going to lose,” Reed said, implying that Meacham was filing the lawsuit as a way to make money.

UES, however, in an exclusive release to SaportaReport, issued a scathing response to the mayor on Sunday. Here is the full, unedited response from UE Studios.


Ubiquitous Entertainment Studios (UE Studios) Statement

To clarify and present the facts and to address the seemingly intentional misrepresentation of our actions and intentions, UE Studios releases the following statement:

UE Studios believes that the development of film studios on the campus of Fort McPherson is a great idea.

In fact, we are so committed to the idea that, from 2011 through 2013, we began discussions with MILRA; invested in a site and vibration studies; developed a business plan, renderings and projections; and initiated and held meetings that included MILRA, Invest Atlanta, the selected master developer for Fort McPherson, and Paramount Pictures.

Over the course of these discussions, MILRA was both enthusiastic and helpful in working with us to realize this project. It is through those discussions with MILRA that we were told that the potential studio could be built on 85 acres of the Fort McPherson site in order to accommodate the other elements of the master plan.

The UE Studios plan that was presented to MILRA included a studio, performing arts theater, a film school and outreach and engagement with the local community.

In December 2013, to further demonstrate our commitment to developing a film studio as the anchor of an entertainment campus, UE Studios made an offer to begin negotiations to buy 80 acres of land on the site that MILRA had determined was best suited and available for UE Studios. MILRA did not respond until February 2014.

Tyler Perry, MILRA Chairman Felker Ward and Mayor Kasim Reed pose for photos after agreement is announced
Tyler Perry, MILRA Chairman Felker Ward and Mayor Kasim Reed pose for photos after agreement is announced

In February 2014, MILRA executive Jack Sprott sent UE Studios a letter stating unequivocally that MILRA was prohibited from negotiating with any person or entity until the land had been conveyed to MILRA from the U.S. Army. That statement would soon be proven untrue, deliberately deceptive or grossly uninformed by the people charged with making sure that the process was open and fair.

In June 2014, UE Studios discovered through a public statement made by Mayor Kasim Reed that he intended to sell the land to Tyler Perry. The day after the mayor’s statement, UE Studios sent an email to the mayor requesting a meeting to discuss his desire for a film studio at Fort McPherson; the UE Studios project; and our view that there is room for more than one studio project. The mayor did not respond to our request until three weeks later – the day after UE Studios filed its lawsuit.

UE Studios’ lawsuit was filed to address wrongs that became evident as the process of developing these public lands was turned into a secretive, backroom deal that excluded any other citizens, entrepreneurs, proposals, input or consideration for the best deal available. Evidence of this flawed process is the statement by MILRA that its board has agreed to sell 330 acres to Tyler Perry at less than market value.

As citizens of the United States, Georgia and Atlanta, we have exercised our fundamental right to seek redress through the legal system. We find it unacceptable that valuable public assets are directed to those who are selected by public officials without an open, transparent, fair and legal process. Such actions are tantamount to those of disgraced Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, not the behavior we have come to expect from the best of our elected officials in Atlanta.

We say, let the facts speak.


Tyler Perry, Kasim Reed and Felker Ward share a moment after posing for photos
Tyler Perry, Kasim Reed and Felker Ward share a moment after posing for photos

Although Perry did not talk about the lawsuit during Friday’s MILRA board meeting, he did talk about his vision for Fort McPherson.

Most importantly, Perry reassured the community that he would not be replacing a fort with a fort, and that he had been listening to the community’s concerns.

Tyler Perry envisions having as many as 16 movie, television, video and sound studios on the property – almost all located toward the center of the property.

But Perry did acknowledge that the property “won’t be open everyday for everybody.”

Instead, the studios will be available for tours, and Perry also hopes to provide training for neighborhood residents who are interested in entering the movie business.

Perry then reminded members of the MILRA committee how he had grown up in an impoverished community in New Orleans, and viewed his move to Atlanta as coming to the “promised land.” Perry said his plans for Fort McPherson is not just about film, it’s about inspiring young people and providing a “beacon” of opportunity for them to lift up their lives.

“It would be foolish for me to come to my own people and sit among them and shut them out,” Perry said, “when it was the people, my people, who helped me get in this position.”

Maria Saporta, executive editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state. From 2008 to 2020, she wrote weekly columns...

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  1. It’s who you know with the Reed Administration , not what you know. If you are part of the Cascade Road Mafia, you are in. If not your are toast. Reed is just taking care of his friends like always.

  2. waitaminit
    UE Studios credibility was based on far more than their inclusion of Egbert Perry and The Integral Group.  It was based on three years of dedication to a project conducting land and vibration studies, selecting the best possible location for the site, engaging a world class studio architect, putting together a strong and diverse Board of Directors, developing a comprehensive business plan that included a film school, visitors center, animation house, and the world’s largest sound stage (6,500 sq. ft.) with a retractable floor which could be flooded for ocean scenes.  
    It is my understanding that Egbert Perry and The Integral Group had been engaged by MILRA as one of three Master Developers on the Ft. McPherson project.  He was subsequently engaged as the developer for the UE Studios project after it had been determined by MILRA that there were no conflicts of interest.  Early 2014 MILRA approached all three of the Master Developers chosen to inform them that it had become necessary for them to invest some three million dollars to cover MILRA expenses.  Integral and the other developers bowed out at that time.

  3. waitaminit Egbert Perry is the guy paying for the lawsuit. Nobody will mention his name cause they dont want to get sued. Case in point. Only problem is he isnt big friends with the Mayor….

  4. and while the lawyers sue to make money , the politicians deal to make money and the consultants bide their time while watching the clock collecting a fat check;  the poor people of the surrounding community get nothing but empty promises ….bout like that empty lot on University that they been promising to do something with for 15 years. 

    Hey heres how we create jobs for the community…get a law degree, or any degree that will qualify you to instruct others how they need to get a job or get a masters degree and then really milk the suckers as a consultant….theres your job creation… sue, study, fight, consult, repeat……repeat…repeat…and the poor people get nothing.

  5. 330 acres for a production facility is ludicrous. By comparison, Warner Brothers in Burbank, one of the largest and busiest studios in the world, is less than half that size at 142 acres. Paramount Studios is just a fraction of that at 65 acres. We’re talking about established facilities that make hundreds of movies and TV shows a year. I’ve been a supporter of Mayor Reed in the past, but this deal feels very, very shady.

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