Walls are closing in on Fort Mac

By Maria Saporta

The clock is ticking on Fort McPherson.

The next board meeting of the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority (MILRA) is scheduled for Wednesday, June 17 as all-day work session.

It appears unlikely that the sale of 330 acres of Fort McPherson’s 488 acres to Tyler Perry will close on that day.

But MILRA officials say the closing should happen shortly thereafter.

The sale would involve a nearly simultaneous transaction of MILRA acquiring about 474 acres from the U.S. Army, and then selling 330 acres to filmmaker Perry for the headquarters of Tyler Perry Studios.

Tyler Perry Kasim Reed

Tyler Perry listens to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed at MILRA board meeting in August 2014 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

According to information that has been previously released, Perry is supposed to initially pay $20 million at close.  The Veterans Administration has about 10 acres on the site so it can offer its services.

“We’re still expecting the Army/Tyler Perry deals to close by the end of the month,” Brian Hooker, MILRA’s executve director wrote in an email. “It would be nice if the closing took place on 6/17, but we’re expecting to need a special called meeting once the documents are finally ready.”

As readers of this column know, I have great reservations about this deal. First, I suffer from the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” remorse that the City of Atlanta and MILRA had to redevelop this magnificent piece of property.

How often does Atlanta get an opportunity to redevelop a pristine and historic tract of land totally of nearly 500 acres, already a city within a city, with beautiful green space that can be used for outdoor festivals – strategically located between two MARTA stations? Never again.

But the political pressure to sell the 330 acres to Tyler Perry for a total of $30 million (less than $100,000 an acre) is undeniable.

So my hope had been that we could at least improve the deal so that it would become an asset, rather than a liability, for the future redevelopment of the southside.

So I emailed Brian Hooker several questions, and he graciously answered them all.

Fort Mac site plan

Site plan of Fort McPherson sale – Tyler Perry would own 330 acres inside the blue lines, MILRA would own 144 acres  between the blue lines and the red lines, the Veterans Administration controls 10 acres inside the green lines (Colors added by Maria Saporta)

I do appreciate his responsiveness, but I must admit that every single answer told me that MILRA is not seeking to improve its deal with Tyler Perry for Atlanta’s benefit. It is now solely focused on the remaining 144 acres that it will own once the sale is complete.

See below for that exchange of questions and answers.

Also, for the first time, I have included a site plan that clearly shows what property Perry will own and what property MILRA will own. Readers can see thow Perry was able to acquire the prime pieces of the Fort and the patchwork of property that MILRA got.

As someone who believes in civic journalism, I believe it is important for you to now what decisions are being made that will impact your future.

Thank you again for reading.

Will the public be able to review the contract before it is voted on by MILRA?

No. From the initial planning for redevelopment nearly a decade ago through the creation of our mission and goals, to the most recent formulation of community input to Tyler Perry Studios, the public has helped to shape the redevelopment of Fort McPherson every step of the way. We have negotiated in good faith on their behalf, and the board will vote with its best interests in mind. But this redevelopment authority, like most redevelopment authorities, is not in the practice of sharing contractual documents of this nature for the public’s review prior to the consummation of the related transactions. We will discuss the key provisions of the contract prior to the vote on same, which is our custom. This contract is integral to our comprehensive acquisition of the remainder of Fort McPherson and there are public interests which are well served by following the approach we are taking.

Specifically, do you know if these issues are addressed in the contract:

  1. Removing the barriers surrounding Fort McPherson isolating it from the community – and not permitting Tyler Perry Studios to put up new fences or walls around Tyler Perry’s property?

Tyler Perry Studios has stated its intent to have an aesthetically appealing fence around the film and television studio property, as might be reasonably expected of any film studio – or corporate headquarters or academic institution or other use. We anticipate public access to the movie studio property via tours – and public access to the balance of the 144 acres to be developed by MILRA. In fact, MILRA is purposefully reserving exterior areas of Fort McPherson so that it may better integrate this property into the fabric of the surrounding community while simultaneously recognized the market based business interests which must be considered in order to advance the economic development objectives of our first non-governmental partner in the significant revitalization that will take place at Fort McPherson.

  1. Ability for MILRA to purchase any property that Tyler Perry may put up for sale at the cost that he bought it for from MILRA (with perhaps a slight escalation)?

A right of first offer allowing MILRA to purchase property which Tyler Perry seeks to sell, versus develop, has been negotiated. The price would be market driven which will respect the investments made by both parties at Fort McPherson.

  1. Maintaining public access through the entire property?

We anticipate public access to the film and television studio property via tours and other means aligning with their business needs – and public access to the balance of the 144 acres to be developed by MILRA.

  1. Ability for the city, MILRA, county to use the open space for special events?

Just as Porsche chooses whether and how to open its property to events, for example, we will respect Tyler Perry Studios’ ability to do so. [Why should this project be treated any differently?]

  1. Releasing the land across from the Fort McPherson MARTA station to MILRA and permitting that to be developed as Transit Oriented Development?

This is not contemplated by the contract.

  1. Conditions that Tyler Perry / TPS would have to meet in terms of dollar investment or job generation within “X” number of years, and if those conditions are not met, then MILRA would regain ownership of the property?

The contract includes neither incentives nor penalties regarding investment or job creation.

  1. Legal assurances that the historic properties would be maintained to a top quality standard and not allowed to deteriorate?

Existing covenants on historic properties will prohibit the demolition or alteration of the exterior of designated historic structures without first going to the Georgia’s Historic Preservation Division.

  1. Adherence to the city’s restrictions prohibiting the cutting down of mature trees on the property?

The City of Atlanta’s tree ordinance applies to this property.

Note to readers: So it’s up to you to say whether you believe this deal is in the best interests of Atlanta and the state. If you speak up, maybe someone in a position of power will listen.

 

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.

32 replies
  1. Lewis Autor says:

    What about the people who live in the communities surrounding the walled-in business venture. The Mr. & Mrs. I am concerned about are the 1000s of poor children in Black neighborhoods from SE Atlanta to SW Atlanta. The ONES who will pass on poverty to their children for a lack of jobs & an economic center near them. Should Tyler Perry find avenues to uplift them — all is well. The responsibility was with the elected officials. No Support… No more VOTES.
    Le It does not matter if we agree or not. I have no problem with who is buying the property, nor do I have a problem with his proposed use of the land. Where I stand is for the HELPLESS CHILDREN. http://www.theroot.com/articles/politics/2011/10/we_need_a_black_economic_renaissance.htmlReport

    Reply
  2. Kahlil English says:

    What you are doing is perpetuating a stereotype Lewis Autor. We the people who live in the surrounding communities have stressed that we don’t want the deal. We want our version of Santana Row. We can uplift ourselves. And rest assured, we are not all as inept as you and others may think we are.Report

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  3. Lewis Autor says:

    Kahlil English I certainly am happy to hear your determination. I live in this community and serve here. I wil help you if there is need.Report

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  4. atlman says:

    It is easy to be the sole voice of reason when someone else is writing the checks. The redevelopment proposals that the people at Fort MacPherson (and also in the Turner Field area) would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Who is going to pay for it? According to the residents and activists, the city, the state, the feds, corporate America, but “somebody else.” Which is, of course, how it always is, and why these areas never get redeveloped.

    Miss Saporta is great at listening to the local activists, some of them supported by former politicians who also failed to do a thing with Fort McPherson (or Underground Atlanta or the Turner Field area or the Civic Center etc.) when they had their shot at running Atlanta, but terrible at identifying the revenue source for the hundreds of millions of dollars that it will take to deliver on their pipe dreams. What is the plan, then? To use the money that is now going on the Beltline to Fort MacPherson? To use the bond referendum money that was going to go towards infrastructure improvements to Fort MacPherson? To use the money for the new Falcons stadium on redeveloping Fort MacPherson? To hold sit ins and protests until the state and/or the feds commit to rebuilding Fort MacPherson? Or to raise taxes and use the revenue to redevelop Fort MacPherson instead of addressing far more pressing and serious infrastructure and economic development projects?
    That is the rub. All of the people opposed to this have no actual answers, no actual plans, to redevelop this area. They just know that they hate THIS redevelopment plan and are trying to block it. If no other redevelopment plan takes its place and the property just sits there for the next 20 years just like Underground, the Civic Center and a bunch of other vacant or economically unviable areas all over the city do, well that is better than actually seeing a project that they don’t like go ahead because at least they can PRETEND that they are working to try to improve the area and that the right plan to come redevelop that place is right around the corner. That “any day now” some corporation, university, investor or politician is going to come along and give them what they want. And they are willing to spend the next 100 years pretending that it will EVEN THOUGH IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN. Which is just the way that things go – or don’t go – in areas like this in Atlanta and for that matter in Detroit, Birmingham, Saint Louis and all over the country. There is always the mentality that it is the job of the government or corporate America to come in and fix and develop and save certain communities, and they do so while totally ignoring things like, I don’t know, economic reality, and nothing ever happens. Similar to the people who denounced the plan that Georgia State University and developers have for the Turner Field area last week. You had people stating that they wanted the area to be developed similar to Vinings. Never mind the fact that Vinings was developed that way because of all the businesses and high income residents in that area and in the surrounding area. 

    Seriously, a huge part of me wants Tyler Perry to pull out, so I can come here and make weekly “So have you guys found a buyer for Fort Mac yet”? comments to Miss Saporta, already knowing the answer. It would be a lot of fun, but it would not be in the best interests of the city. Even if the Perry deal is less than ideal, one should not let the great be the enemy of the good.

    The city of Atlanta proper is only 8% of the metro Atlanta population. It is divided between a very liberal working class/low income population on the south side (for the most part) and a far more conservative affluent population on the north side that (for the most part) resents the city’s political leadership and dislikes that their tax dollars are often redistributed to other parts of the city. Suburban Atlanta and the Georgia legislature are dominated by people even more conservative and hostile to the city and its leadership. So the idea that the city can fulfill the progressive pipe dreams of the activists in Fort Mac or any other area of the city are totally unrealistic; it ignores political and economic reality. It seems that certain people are willing to just keep on doing that because they don’t have anyone accountable to. They don’t have anyone to answer to when their ideas fail and their wish lists never get implemented. Sorry, but that is the wrong group of people to listen to.Report

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  5. Chad Carlson says:

    The fact that the public can’t see the plans or the contract is inexcusable given that the public owns the property. Mr. Hooker has also stated to me that some of the historic buildings are “problematic” and that the covenants don’t exclude historic buildings from being moved. And given the city’s recent record with not honoring their agreements on the Randolph Lucas House, or the Crum Forster building, I don’t have much faith that they will honor the agreements to protect the historic buildings at Ft. Mac.Report

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  6. RodneyHo1 says:

    Tyler Perry is notoriously private. Has he specifically promised tours at the new studios or is that merely a hope? He does not do tours on his current studio property.Report

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  7. Toni Howell Pentecouteau says:

    The Atlanta Tree Ordinance has already been broken – the oldest tree on base has been cut down. A magnolia on Staff Row that was catalogued and marked with a metal marker. Travesty and shame the city is selling out the one and only pristine bit of history in Atlanta. Even the parade field has been untouched and is historic… wonder how that will be changed by the Tyler Perry company. All about making money, but not for Atlanta as that property is going cheap.Report

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  8. JeffTucker says:

    I hope the Board meets without the presence and pressure from Tyler Perry.  Also, would be interesting to know if above and beyond the favorable sale price by the City of Atlanta to Perry, what other incentives the City is promising in addition to the State of Georgia tax incentives.  Would be interesting for a poll among your readers as to their feelings on the subject and recommendations for the property and publish the results to the public and send it to the Mayor.  The City could deed the property to a Development Trust with the condition of a viable development plan within 12 month be presented with definitive funding sources for the development of a mixed use project while protecting the character & charm of Fort Mac.  The infrastructure is already there for such a project and preserving the historical and viable use of the property.  Maria …. thank you for your civic minded approach to your journalistic views and sharing them with the public.  Would be nice for the Board to not succumb to political pressure of allowing this gift to Tyler Perry to be approved …… Jeff TuckerReport

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  9. DawgGirl says:

    Bottom line this is not a great deal for the City, articularly for the surrounding communities.  What happened to all the information gathered during the many meetings and hours spent in developing zoning for the Fort Mac site??  So Tyler Perry leaves Atlanta for south of the City, so what?  We’re giving away so much and considering the current development trends Atlanta, again, is missing the boat.  Sad, sad, sad.  I only hope the new Planning Commissioner will speak to truth to power when he gets here.Report

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  10. OrganicDevelopment says:

    @atlman You made some logical points, however, the fact that government aid shouldn’t be used bears no merit. The state of Ga and City of Atlanta will pay NCR tens of millions of dollars to move to Midtown. This would be great if they were coming for outside the state of Georgia, but they are moving from…..Norcross. So with government aid they are moving from one side of the area to the other. Are we the taxpayers of Georgia receiving any real benefit? The same with Worldpay. They with state and city money are moving from Sandy Springs (formerly part of Atlanta) to Midtown.  Perhaps these companies are, as you say, “terrible at identifying the revenue source for the hundreds of millions of dollars that it will take to deliver on their pipe dreams.” Oh they found it didn’t they. Through the government. 

    Now for you liberal mongers who probably have never even traversed on that side of town maybe your problem with Tyler Perry is that he is an African American businessman that is only using the same legal means that other astute businessmen have used.  I live next to many of you and ya’ll ain’t as friendly as ya’ll think ya’ll are toward us black folks, especially to the ones of us who make more than you. Yes, I live in a “gentrifying” area and ya’ll don’t even say hello (but that’s another axe to grind for another day). 

    I do wish there was someone that stepped up to the plate other than Tyler Perry and it hurts be deeply to agree with @atlman but I’d rather Tyler go in then for it to sit vacant for 20 years. 

    Lastly, the city does have road frontage along Lee Street and you could develop a very lovely space along that stretch there. In addition, on the backside it will be integrated into the community and you won’t be able to see the studio.Report

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  11. mnst says:

    @atlman Literally no one has suggested that Fort Mac be redeveloped with public dollars, instead they have suggested that Tyler Perry’s film studio might not be the highest and best use of public land that’s already significantly developed. I’m not sure if you didn’t understand that point or if you did and are being intentionally obtuse.Report

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  12. Matthew Rao says:

    What a shame that the City, council, and planning departments could not 1) come up with a better plan for the usage of the property and 2) negotiate the important parts of that with any potential buyer.
    This seems to amount to transferring public taxpayer supported property to a private developer to create a fenced-in private compound for private gain. The idea that the public realm could be enlarged with this most historic and largest of Intown properties seems to have been lost entirely.Report

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  13. atlman says:

    OrganicDevelopment

    1. The city would LOVE for NCR or Worldpay to move to Fort Mac. Guess what? NCR and Worldpay do not want to move there. Why? Because they prefer to be in Midtown, near Georgia Tech, surrounded by highly skilled workers, affluent residents and businesses. Which was, er, my entire point. Because of the side of town that it is on, Tyler Perry is the only person that is ever going to want that property.

    2. The amount of money being spent to lure NCR and Worldpay combined is less than a fraction of what it would take to redevelop Fort Mac. NCR and Worldpay are moving into an already well-developed part of town. Fort Mac, by contrast, is FOUR HUNDRED ACRES. Do you have any idea how much money it would take to develop that amount of land into something that anyone would want to locate a business or housing development? And the best part: developing that area doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone will want to locate there. You could make it shining, glimmering, gleaming and state of the art, but companies are still going to prefer an area that is near educated workers and other businesses.Report

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  14. atlman says:

    mnst

    The people who claim that the film studio might not be the highest and best use of this property have not identified another use. They also have not identified who will be its user. 20 years from now, they still won’t. That is the real point that the local activists and their pie in the sky dreams are being intentionally obtuse about.
    If you have another use for the area, give it. If you have another buyer for the land, name it. Either put up or stop standing in the way of the only offer that this site has had in years and will likely ever have considering its condition and location.Report

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  15. atlman says:

    They couldn’t come up with a better plan for this? Let me tell you something: you can’t either. If you have a better plan for this property, which is located in a side of town that no one with money, resources or options has chosen to live or invest in for decades, let’s hear it. We are all ears. The activists trying to block this thing have all sorts of pipe dreams for this project, including a Taj Mahal type center for the homeless as well as somehow attracting high paying biotechnology jobs there. Never mind that A) the homeless center would costs tens of millions to build and millions more annually to maintain and B) NO BIOTECHNOLOGY CENTER IS GOING TO LOCATE NEAR A HUGE HOMELESS SHELTER. Also, what company is going to put a biotechnology facility in that part of town, instead of midtown or downtown near Georgia Tech and Georgia State, or in north Atlanta near where the people with the education and skills to actually work in that sort of place will actually live? So, these biotechnology workers are going to decide to buy houses and condos in that area of town? Or they are going to ride MARTA from Buckhead to Fort Mac and back every day, including trips that take place late at night because no one in that industry works 9-to-5 jobs? 

    Look, if it were this easy to develop Fort Mac, how come no similar economic development is going on anywhere else on the south side?Report

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  16. atlman says:

    DawgGirl

    “So Tyler Perry leaves Atlanta for south of the City, so what?”
    I will tell you “so what.” The area never gets bought and sits vacant. When that happens, where will you be? Are you someone who thinks that planning, zoning, holding meetings etc. will somehow result in a buyer and a development plan for this site to spontaneously combust?Report

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  17. atlman says:

    JeffTucker

    “The City could deed the property to a Development Trust with the condition of a viable development plan within 12 month be presented with definitive funding sources for the development of a mixed use project while protecting the character & charm of Fort Mac”
    Don’t you think that if something like this was possible that it would have been done already? Aren’t people aware that Fort Mac has been on the market for 6 years spanning two mayoral administrations? No development trust exists that will take this property. No development plan for this property exists. It is an undesirable property on a low income, undesirable part of town. 

    You want to develop a mixed use project? Fine. You find the high income people willing to buy condos in a run down area of the city with no night life, no shopping options, nothing. And you find the businesses (other than pawn shops, check cashing agencies, telemarketing call centers, warehouses) willing to locate there. You can’t even get Wal-Mart to open a store in that area and you want a mixed use project there?Report

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  18. atlman says:

    “The responsibility was with the elected officials.”
    Exactly. You want elected officials to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on poverty programs. Which is why you are posting a link from that Marxist online mag. That is precisely the mentality that will keep anything from getting done on Fort MacPherson, Turner Field, Underground Atlanta … you name it.Report

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  19. atlman says:

    letmesaythis

    He is also guaranteed a job with Bain Capital and plenty of other places, as every ex-mayor of a major city who doesn’t leave under a cloud of scandal and failure gets. Even Bill Campbell was able to secure a high-paying job with a Florida law firm despite a federal conviction and getting disbarred. Linda Schrenko and Mitch Skandalakis were able to get good jobs after leaving federal prison too. What is your point?Report

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  20. O4W says:

    OrganicDevelopment  “The same with Worldpay. They with state and city money are moving from Sandy Springs (formerly part of Atlanta) to Midtown.”

    Sandy Springs was never part of the City of Atlanta.Report

    Reply
  21. Horacio Romero says:

    Maria, thank you for staying on top of the Ft. McPherson story. The answers MILRA gave to your questions 2 & 6 reveal the city was either truly challenged to find any other buyer or that the city did not find the best negotiators to represent its interests. We appear to be missing visionary developers with visionary investors. Regardless, Tyler Perry has an opportunity to create something special. Let’s hope he has surrounded himself with folks who will help him realize a lasting legacy. To project beyond one’s walls is extremely difficult and should not be expected of Tyler Perry’s investment; universities do not project into the neighborhoods they are a part of. Georgia State has had a great revitalizing impact on Downtown Atlanta, as it does not have physical boundaries. Yet, Georgia State still has the challenge in that it creates dead zones by having single purpose parking decks, e.g. no street level retail. Georgia Tech also has also been improving and is having a definite impact on Spring Street. I do not believe that the AUC has projected much beyond its boundaries. Maybe, Tyler Perry wants to become both.Report

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  22. John Helliwell says:

    This is what I wrote when they first mentioned closing Fort McPherson. Sent it to every government agency I could think of. The City of Atlanta would have made out a lot better than they are now. We need to get the politicians and people in power to stop thinking only of themselves, and start putting the people first.
    My understanding is that Fort McPherson is now owned by the city of Atlanta. The developers want to remove the golf course and build/add section 8 housing. Do we really need section 8 housing in an area that is so ripe for a variety of other reasons?
    My recommendation would be more feasible: Turn Fort McPherson into a retirement community; combined with corporate offices, government agency headquarters and college extension classrooms (which already exist). Atlanta is lacking in this respect. This would be more beneficial.
    Everything is already in place for this to happen. The main attractions are the golf course, bowling center, leisure center, recreation center, gymnasium, swimming pool etc. Houses surround the course. The BX is the same as a mini store, not to mention a commissary. A small Hospital is in place. A fence surrounds the area to keep it safe and security guards are there.
    Transportation would not be a problem. MARTA bus and train service already exist. The community could follow that of Peachtree and allow golf carts within the fenced area.Report

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  23. John Helliwell says:

    As for the commercial buildings, they would be ideal for other companies. Such as the large reserve building could be used as MARTA HQ or CDC or another government agency. The businesses would be shared with the retirement community.
    What effect would this have in the area? Bring in more commerce, stimulate the economy and have a multiplier effect. What effect would the section 8 housing bring to the installation? There may be a need for section 8 housing but not where you have great potential for job growth created by major corporations and Government organizations. Would these organizations be more likely to move into Fort McPherson knowing section 8 housing will be created OR with a secured area whereby the residents are senior citizens?
    This change to Fort McPherson would be immediate with no cost to Atlanta. In fact it would start reaping the profits right away. The developers way, as it stands, will be very costly developing and building and would take years to complete. At a guess maybe 10 – 15 years before Atlanta could reap any benefits. With the economy the way it is, need I say more.
    To me, this would be ideal and bring older people into Atlanta. A WIN – WIN for all Atlanta.Report

    Reply

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