By Maria Saporta

New details have emerged in a new legal filings against the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority and Tyler Perry Studios by Ubiquitous Entertainment Studios (UES).

UES filed two separate legal responses late Friday afternoon objecting to efforts by Tyler Perry Studios and MILRA to dismiss UES’ lawsuit against a proposed deal to sell 330 acres of the 488-acre Fort McPherson to the internationally-known Atlanta filmmaker to build up to 16 sound, television and movie studios on the property.

In its new filings, UES said it had been working on a movie and entertainment studio deal with MILRA since 2011 spending “enormous amounts of time and resources” towards buying 80 acres of the fort for its project.

Tyler Perry and Kasim Reed at Aug. 8 MILRA board meeting
Tyler Perry and Kasim Reed at Aug. 8 MILRA board meeting

When asked about the Ubiquitous Entertainment’s lawsuit against the Perry deal on August 8, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed called the suit “garbage,” and he made disparaging remarks against the people behind UES who were legally challenging Perry and MILRA.

But in its latest filings, UES clearly states it has legal problems with the way the Perry deal thwarted its own plans for a movie studio.

After UES made a formal offer to buy 80 acres in December, 2013, MILRA informed UES on Jan. 26, 2014 that “it was not the yet the title owner of the federally owned” property, and “at such time that it became property owner, inform UES and other parties who were interested purchasing property located within Ft. McPherson by public notice.”

But UES said MILRA never advertised the property, and it still has not become the title owner of the land.

“Nor has it given any reason for why it has violated the federal statute governing the disposition of federal property,” the new filings state. “It did, however, join in a press conference in June 2014, with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed stating that it had entered in ‘robust’ negotiations with Defendants’ Perry for Defendant Perry to purchase the Ft. McPherson property.”

Community flier urging turnout for meeting on Fort McPherson
Community flier urging turnout for meeting on Fort McPherson

But in its filing against Tyler Perry Studios, UES said the issues are even more conflicted than just not following disposition of federal property.

UES had confidentially shared independently prepared site plan documents and drawings for its movie studio complex with MILRA.

“UES, upon information and belief, has cause to believe that Tyler Perry is in possession of its site plans and drawings as a result of receiving them from MILRA,” the legal filing states. “Not only that, UES requested that MILRA return all documents and plans that had been shared but also to not share the information with parties outside of those meetings (this is the primary purpose of a nondisclosure agreement and a non-circumvent agreement).

“This request was not honored. Hence MILRA, in colluding with Defendants’ Perry and sharing UES’ proprietary information with Defendants’ Perry, made them a party to conversion plan. Ultimately, defendants took UES’ personal property without UES’ permission.”

The filing said that when Perry’s team submitted its proposed development plans for Fort McPherson, it “contained similar site plans, drawings and business plans” to those submitted by UES. It also disclosed that had intended to build movie studios, an entertainment complex as well as a educational institution.

In UES’ filing against MILRA, it breaks down its legal problems with the authority.

“As set out in the Complaint, federal law required that federal land be conveyed and transferred in a very particular manner and under very particular conditions,” it states. “In its Brief, MILRA does not deny this fact but instead argues, essentially, that UES does not have the right to call it to the carpet for failure to follow those clearly prescribed procedures and requirements.”

State Sen. Vincent Fort speaks to community gathering on Aug. 14 (Photos by Maria Saporta)
State Sen. Vincent Fort speaks to community gathering on Aug. 14 (Photos by Maria Saporta)

The filing went on to state that UES “does have a constitutionally protected interest in the land a fair opportunity and process to purchase the land; and UES has a constitutionally protected right to be treated on equal footing as Tyler Perry Studios concerning purchase of land at Ft. McPherson.”

The UES filing stated that the MILRA and the City of Atlanta “made a sole source determination that the Ft. McPherson property should be sold to Tyler Perry Studios…. However, in so doing, MILRA has not followed the statutorily mandated guidelines for the disposition of federal property which require, where feasible, a fair and open competition be made available to all persons who quality to compete.”

The filing went on to describe statements by MILRA executive director Jack Sprott as “fraudulent” because MILRA Chairman Felker Ward said in June that MILRA had been negotiating with Perry for months, showing that the public would be given an opportunity to bid on the property.

Kay Wallace with her boards and presentations after community meeting
Kay Wallace with her boards and presentations after community meeting

The attorneys representing UES is Tony Axam and Edtora Jones, both of Atlanta.

UES is not the only entity questioning whether the out-of-the-blue negotiations with Tyler Perry Studios followed the legal process for disposing federally-owned land.

At a standing-room only community meeting Thursday, Aug. 14 at the Vicars on Cascade Avenue, more than 150 people showed up to object to the way the process had been handled. (See Carrie Williams editorial of the meeting below).

Kay Wallace, a resident of West End, gave the audience a primer on how the disposition of federally-owned is supposed to happen with community involvement and how it has been happening in Atlanta.

“The process has not been open or transparent,” Wallace said. “Although BRAC may think MILRA represents the community, the process has not been open or transparent.”


The Fort McPherson Townhall Meeting:  The “Awful Song” Of Community Exclusion And How We Can Fly

Editorial by: Carrie L. Williams

Sitting in the VICARS – a community space in Southwest Atlanta I know and love through my participation over the years with the Concerned Black Clergy – and observing nearly 200 community members attending a town hall meeting on Fort McPherson this past Thursday, Aug. 14th, 2014 — I could tell many were bracing for bad news.  And, that meant they were also bracing for what it would take – if it was at all possible – to turn the potential bad news around.

I saw Maria Saporta, an extraordinary journalism professional with her own online news outlet – SaportaReport – in the packed room.  There was Sen. Vincent Fort, along with the town hall meeting organizers that were signing people in, helping to hand out the meeting agenda and information sheets for the town hall.  There were also a few independent folks with video cameras – one in particular I noted from People TV, Atlanta’s public access television station.

But, as the town hall meeting got started, with a prayer from the Community Church of God’s pastor Rev. Michael Smith, there was an obvious missing:  there were no Atlanta television news station cameras on the scene.  No Channel 2, 5, 11, or 46 reporters.  And, from all appearances, no AJC reporters, either.  Perhaps even more sadly, there did not appear to be any traditional black newspaper reporters there, either – but then, Thursday’s are often the deadline day for their papers.

You could call it a corporate media “black-out”.  That’s who owns the AJC and our television affiliate news stations:  major U.S. corporations.

Why weren’t they there?

The Fort McPherson civilian board decision to reach a deal with Tyler Perry — that made the front page of the AJC on Friday, Aug. 8th (click HERE).  The day-before Aug. 7th news conference held by Sen. Vincent Fort, which was called for by community leaders in the Oakland City area surrounding Fort McPherson, got covered by WABE (click HERE) and by Creative Loafing (click HERE).  The Atlanta Business Chronicle carried an article about Fort’s letter to Army Secretary John McHugh on Aug. 7th as well (click HERE).  Maria Saporta covered the federal lawsuit ensuing from Tyler Perry’s plans for studios at Fort McPherson, updated as recently as Aug. 11th, 2014 (click HERE).

Sen. Vincent Fort’s media release regarding the Aug. 14th town hall meeting was sent from the Senate Press Office, so the television news stations would have automatically been notified.

So, why didn’t they — the television news stations — cover the town hall meeting?

What we know for sure is, by not having major television media there — or print media there, like the AJC — the majority of metro Atlanta will not know what the community found out at Thursday’s town hall meeting, which is: the Fort has not been sold, and there are processes that can be impacted over the next 8 weeks to advocate for community inclusion.

But what also became clear to me, from having attended this community meeting, as well as other meetings around Atlanta recently is that those communities impacted by similar types of issues in other parts of the city and metro Atlanta- may never get to see the pattern of similarity in their issues.

Or see just how locked out they are, from the decision-making process.

This is the “Awful Song” about community in Atlanta, an analogy I’m offering to what R. Kelly sang about in his Grammy-winning song, “I Believe I Can Fly”. [click HERE]

Take the vacant and abandoned properties issue facing the Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods.  The Fort McPherson/East Point/Oakland City communities are facing the same issue. One could draw a line geographically from Northside Drive to Lee Street and nearly connect the dots.  The new Falcons stadium development has not addressed and included the Vine City and English Avenue communities’ concerns and needs – according to the community.   The Fort McPherson recent development news is failing to address and include the Oakland City and East Point/Campbellton Road communities’ concerns and needs – according to the community.

Yet, major decisions are now in place, making equitable community inclusion a foregone possibility.

How did that happen?

In the case of Fort McPherson, community leadership was led to believe they were being included – until recently, once major decisions were put in place, and they realized they were not.  In the case of Vine City and English Avenue, community leadership loudly communicated their non-inclusion – but the major decisions made were not re-considered.

A literal “gold rush” is getting ready to descend upon the communities of Vine City, English Avenue, Oakland City, and the Campbellton Road Corridor, from these major development decisions over the new Falcons stadium and now Fort McPherson.

Who will profit from that “gold rush”?  The communities already know it will not be them – again — unless something drastically alters.

What can possibly bring balance to this imbalance of power, where communities are locked out of the decision-making process that impacts their lives so keenly?

Dr. King said we would have to address the “re-structuring of the whole of American society”.  I believe he was pointing to bringing the people of America themselves fully into the decision-making process of government. That type of “re-structuring” – if done right -has the possibility of bringing balance to the decision-making processes that impact our communities, especially our disadvantaged ones.

It is the imbalance of power that keeps communities locked out of the decision-making process.

“Incubator” advocacy strategies are now being developed in the urban congressional districts of metropolitan Atlanta. These strategies include the capacity-building of community members to participate in the decision-making processes of government.  Advocacy strategies include the kind of engagement that can focus on the data, information, structures, and stakeholders needed for community to interact with the decision-making processes of government.  Advocacy management then becomes available for community members to evaluate and assess their efforts in the decision-making process.  Advocacy strategies encourage and utilize the resources of innovative media and communications that can report back to the public, the community, and to others — including government itself and corporate media — on the actions taken by community.

As those “incubator” advocacy strategies begin to grow roots, and sprout leaves, we will be the first to bring them to you.  For those of you who are ready now to begin the journey of advocacy, feel free to email us with your interest, questions, or comments.  One-day advocacy conferences will be beginning this fall, in September 2014.

If we can see it – then we can do it.  That’s how we can fly.

(From Carrie Williams'  editorial)
(From Carrie Williams’ emailed editorial)

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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