Marvel moves magnolia trees for movie shoot; ex-arborist questions permits

Ant-Man, meet Tree-Man


  • Tom Coffin
  • Crews needed to move magnolias for shot of old Georgia Archives building, former city arborist Tom Coffin says

A superhero-movie crew is in the process of moving eight magnolia trees from the front of the old Georgia Archives building to a back street. The city calls it part of a tree-saving good deal that includes cash for more plantings. But former city arborist Tom Coffin worries it’s an end-run around the tree ordinance process.

Marvel Studios is reportedly moving the trees so it can get a clear shot of the building for its movie “Ant-Man” (filming under the code name “Bigfoot”).

“It’s a very good day for trees in Atlanta,” says Melissa Mullinax, a senior advisor to Mayor Reed.

The city-owned trees along Capitol Avenue were doomed anyway by the state’s plan to demolish the cube-shaped archives building sometime in the next two years, Mullinax says, and it’s unlikely either government would have much money to replace them.

The city and state agreed to let Marvel move the trees - at its expense - to a safe spot along Fraser Street, and to pay for two years of maintenance. Marvel also will plant temporary replacements on Capitol Avenue - willow oaks in sunken planters that can be moved at will. In addition, Marvel will fork over $8,000 for new trees in Oakland Cemetery.

“The trees are being moved to save them,” Mullinax said. “Here’s the beauty of this - Marvel is paying for it all.”

It’s also being done without a Department of Parks and Recreation permit. In an email provided by Mullinax, Parks Commissioner Amy Phuong, while hashing out the deal, said that’s OK because “this request is atypical and does not need to follow our permitting process.” The main factor, Mullinax said, is that the trees are being moved, not cut down.

Coffin, formerly the city’s senior arborist, isn’t so sure. On Sept. 26, he filed an appeal at the Tree Conservation Commission. Despite that appeal still pending, Marvel’s contractor this week severed all the trees’ roots and started moving them on Friday.

? ? ?
Coffin tells CL he went to the site on Friday and confronted location manager Mike Fantasia, who only produced a “special use” permit from the city’s Office of Entertainment, which permits film shoots.

“The Mayor’s Office trying to bring the film industry to Altanta, I’m not opposed to that,” Coffin says. “I am opposed to running roughshod over the City of Atlanta tree ordinance.”

Mullinax said the Office of Entertainment temporarily ordered a halt to the work due to the “uproar and confusion” from Coffin’s site visit. But, she said, she expects the Tree Conservation Commission will toss out Coffin’s appeal as moot, since Phuong already said a normal permit is not necessary. A small wrinkle is that, according to Mullinax, Marvel apparently did misunderstand and apply for a Parks permit anyway. Of course, the appeal is also moot in terms of the tree roots already being severed.

Coffin acknowledges that the trees, which could be 20 to 25 years old, may do well in their new location. But he questioned the need for moving them at all. There’s no guarantee the long-vacant archive demolition will happen or would kill trees if it does, he said.

And Marvel is going to all this trouble, Coffin says he was told, “so they can get an unimpeded shot at the State Archives building. As if they didn’t have Photoshop.”

Fantasia assured him that film crews frequently move trees in Hollywood, Coffins says. “I told him, ‘This is not Hollywood. This is the city streets of Atlanta.’”

Fantasia told CL he is barred from speaking to reporters about the production and could not immediately provide a contact person.

Meanwhile, Coffin said he is mostly worried the move sets a precedent that will allow other companies to move inconvenient trees without review. But Mullinax said it’s a special city-state situation that, in this case, got Marvel to spend a total of $63,000 preserving and planting trees in the city.