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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?]
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.