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Tyler Perry willing to buy FORSCOM building at Fort Mac

Tyler Perry during construction of his studios at Fort Mac. (Special: Tyler Perry Studios.)

By Maria Saporta

Media mogul Tyler Perry is interested in acquiring the prominent Forces Command (FORSCOM) building at Fort Mac upon learning that the laboratories for the U.S.  Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would emit fumes into the atmosphere.

In August 2019, the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority (MILRA) approved selling the FORSCOM building for $17 million to Easterly Government Properties, which would lease the building to the FDA for laboratories. At the time, the plans were for the building to be renovated and ready for the FDA by 2021.

The FORSCOM building at Fort Mac has supposed to become the new Atlanta lab for the FDA. (Photo by Kelly Jordan.)

There has been little progress on the renovation, partly because of the COVID pandemic and partly because the FDA decided to scale back its future plans for the property.

“They didn’t have adequate funding,” said Mark Bauer, executive vice president of Easterly Government Properties, of the FDA. “We put the project on pause while the government decided how much additional funding would be needed.”

Bauer said it now has “relaunched the design process,” and he hopes to be able to start construction on the project by the end of the year and for the FDA to occupy the building by the fourth quarter of 2025.

Meanwhile, Perry learned the labs would be emitting fumes into the air.

“The FDA will have smokestacks emitting white smoke,” Perry said in an exclusive telephone interview. “It’s very problematic to me.”

Originally, Perry had made an offer to buy the FORSCOM building for $17 million, but MILRA instead decided to sell the building to Easterly.

Now Perry is revisiting the possibility of buying the building.

“I would gladly buy the buildings at a premium to not have smokestacks on the property,” Perry said. “The best outcome, if they do not sell the building to me, would be to not have the smokestacks with the environmental impact in an all-Black neighborhood. To allow someone to put a laboratory in the heart of this development with smokestacks is not okay with me. They would not do it in Buckhead, so why would they do it here? It feels like environmental racism.”

FORSCOM

An aerial view of the former offices of the U.S. Army Forces Command. (Special: U.S. Army)

Bauer explained the fumes that would be emitted from the building would be harmless.

“A smokestack is not a fair or accurate description of it at all,” Bauer said. “They are Strobic fans. It’s typical for all labs, hospitals and medical facilities. It’s a type of exhaust system that takes unwanted vapors and fumes created in the lab application and cleans it before putting it out in the atmosphere, so it’s clean. The mechanics are on the roof. The vapors that come out are not visible. It’s not like toxic fumes.”

Bauer went on to say that the same mechanical system is in place at FDA’s current facility. “And that’s in Midtown,” he said.

But that’s not the only issue regarding Easterly’s ownership of FORSCOM, which was used to train, mobilize and deploy combat-ready army forces to respond to crises worldwide when the 488-acre Fort McPherson was an active base from 1885 to 2011.

The building is 380,000 square feet, including the basement. Originally, Easterly had envisioned at least 300 people occupying the building. Now, Bauer said there would be fewer – maybe 200 or 250 – since the plans have been scaled back.

The Dream Building at Tyler Perry Studios. (Special: Tyler Perry Studios.)

By comparison, the Dream building – where Tyler Perry Studios is based – is 250,000 square feet, and “on a light day, we have about 2,000 people working there,” Perry said.

Cassius Butts, chairman of MILRA, also expressed concern about the small number of people who would occupy the FORSCOM building under the Easterly proposal.

“We are open to supporting Tyler if he’s interested in acquiring that additional property, and if Easterly is open to selling it,” Butts said. “We would like to see full use of the building.”

Butts said that he and David Burt, MILRA’s executive director, plan to meet with Easterly to discuss any potential issues about their project.

“We have a commitment to the community. That’s our number one priority,” said Butts, who had spoken to Perry about Easterly’s plans. “We are also encouraged to know when challenges arise that we have an opportunity and an obligation to look into them to make sure they don’t manifest into something greater.”

MILRA Board Chair Cassius Butts (r) greets folks ahead of the July 11, 2019 board meeting. (Photo by Kelly Jordan.)

Interestingly enough, in September Butts was appointed to serve as co-chair of the General Services Administration Acquisition Policy Federal Advisory Committee, which will focus on climate and sustainability regulations, policies and processes with the acquisition of federal facilities. That means he could have some influence at the federal level over FDA’s plans for the FORSCOM building.

Perry did ask Bauer if Easterly would consider selling him the FORSCOM building.

“I told Tyler Perry that we are committed to the project, and the government is committed to the project,” Bauer said. “We are moving ahead. We want to be a good neighbor with Tyler Perry Studios.”

Ever since Fort McPherson closed in 2011, the use of the 488-acre base has been under scrutiny. A community-led master plan and process during the administration of former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin was discarded when then-Mayor Kasim Reed pitched the idea to Perry to buy a majority of the base for his movie studio.

Perry initially ended up buying 330 acres for about $30 million, considered by many to be a sweetheart deal. Since then, Perry has built out his studio and has used the historic buildings on the site as backdrops for his movie and television projects. That property is surrounded by a tall fence, which has been described as a fort inside a fort.

Fort McPherson's Staff Row

Fort McPherson’s Staff Row has been used to house the crew working on Tyler Perry Studio productions. (Special: McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority.)

At the end of 2022, Perry acquired an additional 37.5 acres of Fort Mac property for $8.4 million, which he plans to develop into an entertainment, retail and restaurant district that will also serve as a visitor’s center for people interested in Tyler Perry Studios. Those 37 acres will be publicly accessible, unlike the rest of his property.

In June 2021, MILRA also agreed to sell 94.5 acres of Fort Mac land to T.D. Jakes Real Estate Ventures for $29 million. Jakes plans to redevelop the property as a mixed-use development that will include office and retail space as well as affordable housing.

Bishop Jakes, who is based in Dallas, has said he also wants his development to provide neighborhood amenities, such as restaurants, a grocery store, a pharmacy, a hotel and public spaces.

When it comes to FORSCOM, Perry said he is concerned about the lack of progress on the renovation of the building.

“Nothing has happened at all,” said Perry, who said the building has been gutted. During the recent freeze, Perry said that he toured the building and noticed the water pipes of the sprinkler system burst, and that he’s now concerned about possible mold.

No matter what happens with the FORSCOM building, Perry plans to move forward with his plans for the property he owns.

“I do not have to have it,” Perry said. “I’m just going to build all around it.”

Map shows the area of proposed 37.5 acre expansion of Tyler Perry’s property at Fort McPherson (in red). The FORSCOM building is nestled in the top right corner of the map. (Special: Tyler Perry Studios.)

A rendering of Tyler Perry’s proposed new entertainment district and visitor’s center. (Special: Tyler Perry Studios.)

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Maria Saporta

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.

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