Fort McPherson-Tyler Perry studio deal lacks transparency, lawmaker says
‘Community residents were left out of the decision to court’ filmmaker
- John Ruch
- Big plans are afoot for the former military base in southwest Atlanta
As the Fort McPherson site continues racing toward a potential future as Atlanta-based Hollywood star Tyler Perry’s movie studios, state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, and several residents are demanding transparency in the deal.
“Community residents were left out of the decision to court Tyler Perry,” said Fort at a press conference Thursday at the 488-acre Army base’s Lee Street gate. “That is not acceptable. It is unconscionable, and we will not stand for it.”
An authority overseeing the redevelopment could announce a formal agreement on the Perry deal as soon as Friday, when it meets at the base. Reed will be in attendance. If a deal is struck prior to public review, Fort said, it would be a “betrayal of the public trust.”
Before the southwest Atlanta military base largely shut down in 2011, the state-created McPherson Planning Local Reuse Authority, or MPLRA, worked with resident groups for years on a redevelopment master plan. Based on attracting a major biomedical corporation, it included mixed-income housing, commercial space and a job-training center. Green space and historic preservation were key features. But no biomed companies ever bit, and a mixed-use deal lost a major partner earlier this year.
In June, Mayor Kasim Reed made the surprise announcement of the pending deal with Perry. Details were scant, with Reed saying Perry’s studios would buy about 350 acres of the site for $33 million. It’s unclear how the master plan figures in.
Reed’s Office referred questions to the McPherson Implementing Local Reuse Authority, the MPLRA’s successor. “No comment,” Executive Director Jack Sprott said. Atlanta City Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd has been holding community meetings about the site, but specifics haven’t emerged.
A second secret suitor was another surprise. Ubiquitous Entertainment Studios filed a federal lawsuit last month claiming it wasn’t given a fair chance to bid on the base.
In the surrounding neighborhoods, there has been some optimistic excitement, as the AJC reported. But Fort, who once represented the area and helped created the MPLRA, was backed by former MPLRA members and the head of the Westridge-Sandtown Community Organization.
“We’ve been closed out of the meetings,” said Dianese Howard, the vice chair of the MPLRA’s community engagement subcommittee. “This is public property. It belongs to the people. We need to be at the table, not on the table.”
“Is this a good deal or not?” Fort asked, adding that the sale price is far less per acre than other recent deals such as City Hall East, which was sold to Jamestown Properties to create Ponce City Market. “No one can make that assessment if the deal is done in secrecy. We want it to be open and transparent.”
Fort also suggested racial bias played a role in shutting out the largely African American community. He claimed the Fort McPherson deal is the least transparent he’s ever seen. He told CL it risks turning off citizens from joining in planning processes.
“This city’s being reinvented even as we speak... and citizens, to a great extent, are being left out in the cold,” Fort said. “There’s a good reason for skepticism... But we can’t be cynical.”
Fort penned a letter to the Army asking for more input. Residents are holding a town hall meeting Aug. 14, 7 p.m., at the Vicars Community Center, 838 Cascade Ave.