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Fort McPherson-Tyler Perry deal marches ahead amid reports of possible collapse, board shakeup

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  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • Fort McPherson's Staff Row, Troop Row and Parade Ground, all of which were built in the late 1800s, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.



Nearly one week ago, reports surfaced that Atlanta filmmaker Tyler Perry would pull out of a deal to purchase hundreds of acres at Fort McPherson. But that apparently won't happen as the board responsible for overseeing the former army base's redevelopment has finalized the property boundaries and other terms of the deal.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last Friday reported that Perry was planning to back out of a $30 million deal to purchase approximately 330 acres of Fort McPherson to build a new studio complex. The McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority, the state-created entity tasked with transforming the southwest Atlanta base, was moving too slowly with the sale, an unnamed source told the paper, and the film mogul had turned his attention toward breaking ground on more than 1,000 acres he owns in Douglas County.

MILRA Board Chairman Felker Ward, dismissing media reports about the collapsed deal, yesterday said at a special-called meeting that the board had "never received any official word from Tyler Perry, directly or indirectly." Following a lengthy executive session, board members unanimously voted to finalize the boundaries of the 330-acre studio complex and the 144 acres retained by the redevelopment authority. According to MILRA Executive Director Brian Hooker, the exact boundaries were "in flux" before the meeting and had prevented the deal from moving forward.

Here's a map of the Fort McPherson boundaries that were approved yesterday:

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With those lines agreed upon, Hooker said Perry would control a swath of land that extends from the southwest to northeast parts of the former military base. His property would include the historic buildings and parade grounds. Part of MILRA's 144 acres would be located along Lee Street and could be turned into a mixed-used development with retail and a hotel supporting Perry's venture. He says the redevelopment authority would used another portion of its land off Campbellton Road to build "community-scale" developments integrating with Venetian Hills and Oakland City.

The resolution also gives Tyler Perry Studios and MILRA the right of first offer, should either group want to sell their portion of Fort McPherson. Both parties in the joint-development agreement would have to pay fair market prices for the land at that point. In addition, MILRA would be allowed to use some infrastructure built by Perry for his new studio complex.

Yesterday's meeting comes on the heels of a MILRA board shakeup. Gov. Nathan Deal on Monday night appointed two of Mayor Kasim Reed's allies - former Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson and former campaign manager Meredith Lilly - to the board. He also removed one of his appointees, Points of Light Civic Incubator President Ayesha Khanna, from the board. Khanna, the lone dissenting vote against the Fort McPherson deal, told reporters the "timing is a little bit circumspect" about her removal. Her latest term officially ended in 2013, but like other members serving past the date, she thought that she would be reappointed for another term. The removed board member told reporters that Fort McPherson's redevelopment offers a "once in a century opportunity" that currently isn't doing enough for the public.

"I don't believe the current deal is providing the kind of economic catalyst and benefit needed," she said. "This is not just any land. This is land designated to create economic benefit for Atlanta. That's why we gave the subsidized price to Tyler Perry Studios."

State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, who's harshly criticized the Fort McPherson deal, criticized MILRA's lack of transparency with the community. He slammed board members for, in his view, following the mayor's and governor's marching orders to push through a "sweetheart deal."

The Perry agreement, which still requires final approval from the MILRA board, would be the first step in completing the entire Fort McPherson transaction with the U.S. Army, which currently owns the property. Hooker declined to comment on a specific timeline to finish the entire sale, but said the resolution "significantly accelerates" the behind-the-scenes work needed to finalized the U.S. Army sale.



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