The sad saga of Fort Mac continues – same stuff, different day

By Maria Saporta

Something funky is going on at Fort McPherson – again.

This time it involves  the 145 acres under the control of the McPherson Implementation Local Redevelopment Authority.

That is all the property the Fort Mac LRA has left over after selling 330 acres of the historic army post to filmmaker Tyler Perry for only $32 million in June 2015. Perry has since sealed off those 330 acres with an eight-foot high fence.

Looking at one of the historic buildings at Fort Mac that’s part of Tyler Perry Studios – blocked off by an 8-foot-high fence (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

Speculation now is rampant that Perry is seeking to step in as master developer of the remaining 145 acres. Interestingly enough, five years ago, Perry had wanted to buy the Fort’s entire 488 acres but the authority at the time did not agree.

Since then, the Fort Mac LRA worked to select a master developer for the property it owned. Two years ago, the board selected Atlanta-based Macauley Investments to be the master developer of the 145 acres.

The real estate group has spent the past two years planning and designing the development – lining up relationships – including England’s Prince Charles through the Prince’s Foundation, building ties with the surrounding community, identifying development partners, getting the property rezoned and designing the various pieces of the proposed $760 million development.

Aerial view of Macauley’s proposed development with the skyline in the background (Special: Merrill, Pastor and Colgan Architects and Macauley Investments)

On Thursday Feb. 21 of this year, the Fort Mac LRA board unanimously voted to proceed on a Master Project Area Agreement with Macauley. That agreement in principal was to have been hammered out and executed by the next LRA board meeting scheduled for March 7 – a move that would have given the developers a green light to proceed with the project.

But then something funky happened.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Sunday, Feb. 24 reportedly sent a text to Cassius Butts, the chairman of the LRA board, and to Brian Hooker, executive director of the authority, with a simple message: “Stop.”

Since then, the Fort Mac LRA board has not met, and the master agreement is hanging in limbo. Three board meetings that had been scheduled were canceled. A new meeting now is set for Thursday, July 11.

Although there haven’t been official public meetings, there has been a flurry of activity going on behind the scenes.

Most notably, the mayor’s “most trusted advisor” Alvin Kendall has entered the scene. (There are no  documents showing Kendall as having an official role with the authority or the city, but clearly he is now playing a role).

Kendall is an Atlanta attorney who is a convicted felon. He was sentenced to five years in prison in 1998 for giving his client, who was part of a drug ring, advance warning of up an upcoming legal search and seizure. After being disbarred for 15 years, the Georgia Supreme Court reinstated his ability to practice law in 2015.

Since then, Kendall has been working with the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority. He worked closely with Bottoms when she was the agency’s executive director, and he was deeply involved in the negotiations over the Gulch deal in downtown Atlanta.

Kendall convened a meeting in the Mayor’s office in March that included several key players – Butts, Hooker, Atlanta City Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd, attorney Peter Andrews and the mayor’s staff, according to people close to the situation. Neither Macauley nor Bottoms attended that meeting.

That’s when Kendall told everyone he did not want Stephen Macauley to be the master developer – apparently because he is white – a sentiment he had expressed previously. There was initial pushback from Sheperd and Butts, but by the end of the meeting they seemed to acquiesce to Kendall and the mayor’s staff.

Now there’s speculation that Kendall is working on Tyler Perry’s behalf so the filmmaker can replace Macauley as the master developer of the LRA’s 145 acres.

Map of Macauley’s development plan for the 145 acres that border Tyler Perry’s 330 acres (Macauley Investments)

People involved with Macauley’s development proposal said 90 percent of the partners for the development have been identified – and the project has minority participation of 48 percent.

“I’m very excited to be on the team, and I’m very excited that Steve asked us to be the general contractor on a major piece of his development.,” said David Moody, who founded the minority Moody Construction firm. “It’s a beautiful piece of property and his vision is awesome. Steve has put together a very diverse team. I’ve been very pleased with the diversity of the team.”

Bo Young, the son of former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, also spoke on Macauley’s behalf. Young has an agreement to develop an aquaponic farm adjacent to the property that would provide fresh fruit, vegetables and fish to the various businesses and residents at the fort as well as the larger community.

When he attended a meeting of the other development partners, Young said most of those present were black and representative of the community.

Former Mayor Andrew Young also went to a couple of presentations. Ina telephone interview, Young said having 48 percent minority participation was impressive.

“The Atlanta Way is to make the pie big enough so everyone can participate,” said Young, who expressed concern about potential racial politics. “I think it’s something the community ought to be very sensitive about. It’s not just Fort Mac. It’s the whole image of Atlanta being a fair, multiracial, progressive city. Everything should be fair and transparent.”

Another development partner, Cecil Phillips, would build affordable housing on the first phase of the project.

“It’s going to be transformational, not only for Fort Mac but for the whole area within a five mile radius,” Phillips said of the Macauley deal. “It is going to be the jewel in the crown.”

The entire Macauley development will include a variety of 2,500 residential units – with 60 percent being affordable and workforce housing – a significant portion in perpetuity. That would make a significant  dent in Atlanta’s goal for housing affordability.

“It’s puzzling that we have doing this for two years and nothing has happened,” Phillips said about the lack of progress since February.

On the outside looking in – 8-foot high wall seals off the community from Tyler Perry’s movie studios (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

On Friday, Councilwoman Sheperd offered her colleagues a tour of the property, including Tyler Perry Studios. During that tour, Hooker showed the councilmembers plans for the property, but he never mentioned Macauley as master developer.

In a statement, Stephen Macauley said:

“I speak for our entire team when I say that, alongside the southwest Atlanta community, we are very proud of the two years of work we have all invested in Fort Mac and the wonderful plan and social programs that support it, The community has had its hopes raised twice before only to see them unfulfilled. I sincerely hope that the delays we are now encountering do not lead to yet another disappointment. I am committed to working with the Fort Mac LRA Board and the city of Atlanta to bring the southside a truly world class development.”

Meanwhile LRA Chairman Butts, reached by phone Sunday afternoon, said a host of issues will be discussed at the  July 11 board meeting “regarding the agreement and some of the relationships that have been put in place.”

Butts also added that several developers have expressed interest in the property.

“There is some frustration along the way in how long it’s taken,” Butts said. “I want to make sure this gets done in a proper transparent way. The citizens on the southside deserve to have input, and they deserve to know what’s going on in a very transparent process.”

In some ways, this is dejá-vu all over again.

When Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin was in office, an extensive community-based planning process was launched – leading to the selection of a master development team for Fort McPherson – the Integral Group, Cousins Properties and Forest City.

But Franklin’s successor – Mayor Kasim Reed – apparently did not like composition of the team, a selection that had been made through a formal process. The mayor pushed to change the terms of the agreement – arguing that the developers would have to contribute $500,000 a year to cover the administrative costs of the LRA. The development team said that was not part of the bid proposal, so they back out (which likely was what Reed wanted all along).

Plans were still in place for a thoughtful development of the entire site with extensive community involvement. But all those plans were cast aside when Mayor Reed showed the property to Tyler Perry, who embraced the idea of moving his studios to the site – especially with the favorable terms he received.

Entrance to Tyler Perry Studios – with a “Welcome” sign (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

During those negotiations, Reed put pressure on the LRA board to give Perry what he wanted (rather than looking out for the community’s or the city’s best interests).

That led to the public and the community being entirely fenced out of Tyler Perry Studio’s 330 acres – some of the most treasured land in the city of Atlanta.

So as the Fort Mac LRA board weighs the future of the remaining 145 acres, the question is simple. Is the current administration going to take a page out of Kasim Reed’s playbook or will it do right by the community?

We will find out July 11.

Note to readers:

After the Kasim Reed-Tyler Perry Fort McPherson sweetheart deal in 2015, I avoided writing anything about the project and the remaining 145 acres. It was just too painful thinking about the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” of the missed opportunity. Then, through the grapevine, I began hearing rumblings that history might be repeating itself. I felt I owed it to our readers and to the community to share what I’ve been hearing and to make sure we’re asking the right questions. The community got screwed the last go-round. Now I’m hoping we will have a different storyline  the time around.

Here are some links of my previous Fort McPherson stories.

Tensions mount on both sides of federal lawsuit opposing Tyler Perry’s studio plans at Fort McPherson

UES lawsuit: Federal rules bypassed in Fort McPherson-Tyler Perry deal

An alternative plan for Fort McPherson in court fighting for its life

As Fort Mac-Tyler Perry negotiations proceed, questions refuse to go away

Fort McPherson – secret treasure can spark rebirth of Atlanta’s southside

Tyler Perry-Fort McPherson deal may not be dead, but it is “on the rocks”

Fort McPherson-Tyler Perry deal back in business with help from his friends 

Fort McPherson-Tyler Perry deal not in the city’s best interest

Fort McPherson – Atlanta’s greatest (missed) opportunity

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed responds to Maria Saporta’s Fort McPherson columns

An open letter to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed about Fort McPherson 

Walls are closing in on Fort Mac

Atlanta taxpayers asked to spend $510,000 on new road at Fort Mac because of Tyler Perry’s roadblocks

Photos below from Kelly Jordan’s current Seen in Atlanta Column:

 

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.

24 replies
  1. Avatar
    John Ortiz says:

    If it had been said they didn't want a developer or whatever in play because they were Black, this would be a totally different discussion.Report

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Elizabeth says:

      Business as usual. My husband works there in construction of his movies and the word there is there will be 'luxury' homes…and some 'affordable'. Don't know…but the anti-white sentiment (openly expressed…) is troubling. And there are so many taxpaying whites that have moved into the general area paying huge prices for these homes. Atlanta really is not so progressive after all. All this wheeling and dealing with backward, racist and some criminal elements. Come on, Atlanta.Report

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Think says:

    The nepotism and corruption in this city from the top down is disgusting. The entire city government needs to be voted out and prosecuted. But… well we now know why nothing changes in Atlanta.Report

    Reply
  3. Maria Saporta
    Maria Saporta says:

    Elizabeth,
    As I understand it, the Macauley proposal has included housing for the homeless as part his development. I understand that Bruce Gunter has been working on that piece of the development.
    It's an important issue.
    Thanks for reading.
    MariaReport

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Kesha says:

    It bothers me that people view this project and Atlanta government negatively and state corruption. However, Ga State takeover of Summer Hill (my fathers community), Atlantic Station, Vine City, Castleberry Hill, City of Decatur and all the new "gentrified" areas are rarely discussed negatively. More importantly, why is only 48% going to "minority" contractors. Blacks are NOT the minority in this area. We are the majority! If anything it should be the other way around. Humble yourself and respect the black natives who have lived in this area for decades and suffered with ALL the underdevelopment and racism that we have had to deal with. I want to see a black developer! No one cries about other majority white areas being developed with "sweetheart" deals in majority white areas. But I'm not surprised. It's always been a double standard.Report

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Elizabeth says:

      Humble yourself Keisha, and remember that elderly whites and other races also lived in the SW and suffered the 'underdevelopment' of the powers that be (mostly Black) and their corruption for decades. Reed, Campbell, et al had their hands in this mess. Our council member once stated in a public meeting that 'there would be no development in SW Atlanta unless it was by Black companies". Maybe she has changed her stripes? Hope so. That would be progress in this arena.Report

      Reply
  5. Avatar
    Greg Hodges says:

    "I want to see a black developer !"
    Ladies and gentlemen, with those simple seven words you have absolute proof that racism is not only alive and well in Atlanta, but is thriving.
    The putrid stench from the Perry-Reed "deal: still hangs heavy about this city.
    A great man from Atlanta once taught that a person should be judged by their character and not by the color of their skin. We haven't come very far….now have we ?Report

    Reply
  6. Avatar
    Dan says:

    Kesha, as a black person who was born and raised in this neighborhood, and has since purchased a home here, I don't think you can speak on behalf of all the black people in the neighborhood. This story is troubling because this city is not looking out for the black natives who live here. This development team has committed two years and millions of dollars to creating this plan. There are 100 empty spots in SW (e.g. Campbellton Plaza) for black developers. Also – Mr. Perry put up fences surrounding the property he owns, effectively keeping the community out of his space. We gotta wake up.

    P.S. its not racist to want to see a black developer. I wish there were enough black developers to remake SW Atlanta. It hinges on racism when one wants a black developer at the expense of a white developer who has already done the work.Report

    Reply
  7. Avatar
    Not playin says:

    I can't type the words that should be said about the substance of this article and the charlatans involved and stil have this comment posted….suffice it to say, whatever comes of the federal investigation into corruption at city hall will hopefully garner a reward for such reprehensible actions….when the dust clears, may 2 mayors end up in orange with their comrades to boot…..Report

    Reply
  8. Avatar
    ATLBooster says:

    Atlanta doesn't look out for any natives. The racial stew really seems to be boiling in this town, more than I ever recall. It's simply not this racial in other major cities, granted that may be because blacks quite simply aren't allowed a seat. Nonetheless, ATL has a few years to figure this out or all those shiny buildings it's building will be vacant because no one can roam the streets in night or day safely. Atlanta's national reputation really does precede it as a terrible place to live these days. Companies are likely already having harder times than before getting people to move to Atlanta city.Report

    Reply
  9. Avatar
    Chris Johnston says:

    Mayor Bottoms is a reprise of her mentor Mayor Reid. Pay no attention to what politicians say; instead watch what they do and follow the money.Report

    Reply
  10. Avatar
    JWK57 says:

    Here are the cliff notes as I remember the history of Fort Mac:
    1) Army releases the care and feeding of Fort Mac to the City of Atlanta.
    2) The City develops a committee or task force.
    3) This task force takes a 2 year project and feasibility study and stretches it out to 10 years so it can make work for as many for as long as possible.
    4) Once the level of incompetence becomes thoroughly nauseating, the Dark Lord (Reed) sees an opportunity to better his station in life.
    5) Ah yes, the Master Plan…why not sell the property on the cheap to a friend with impeccable reputation? Wait a few years after leaving office for the furor and bitter memories to subside and then resell the property with the help of said friend for a tremendous profit?
    6) It goes without saying that significant compensation would be awarded to said "Orchestrator".
    7) And since this is Atlanta…Lather, Rinse, Repeat. No jobs are lost and nobody goes to jail.
    8) Here endeth the Lesson.Report

    Reply
  11. Avatar
    P.S. Wallace says:

    I'd say that *if* the true motivating factor was the developer had to be chosen based on race, then the Department of Defense was quite right to close the base down in 2011, because the philosophy of "choose by skin color" (being incompatible with the by-and-large merit-based promotion system of the military),would cause a hostile community atmosphere for assigned troops of that "wrong" color.

    This sort of thing happened in the past, of course (as I'm sure we will be told)–but we were supposed to be past those days. And eventually I guess we will be, though Atlanta might find it takes a loss of something to drive home that no one gets to do it anymore. No one. Not white, not black, not Protestant, not Catholic, not Gentile, not Jew. Nobody. We are supposed to rise on merit in this nation, as close as merit as flawed man can perceive.

    The best way to get to the Republic of Merit is to simply act like you live in one, and deal with the exceptions as they occur. Perhaps the Mayor, in between getting elected by supporters waving "Keep Atlanta Black" signs, could think about that for a few minutes. Because no one is going to move in and put their trust in a mafia, no matter how benign, if they know at that end of the day it will still act like a mafia–and that you ain't part of that crowd.Report

    Reply

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