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Fort McPherson road could be funded with TAD cash

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  • McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority
  • Road is needed to allow VA visitors to access site after land sale to Tyler Perry Studios

More than half a million dollars in public funding could go toward building a road in Fort McPherson. But we're still waiting to hear when city officials might cough up a slightly larger amount of cash to pay for a similar, more important project in northwest Atlanta.

An Invest Atlanta committee that oversees the spending of cash from tax allocation districts — they're controversial financial tools the city uses to spark development in blighted areas — yesterday moved the $510,000 funding request along for a final vote by the economic development agency's full board.

On paper, the project seems relatively small: build a 952-foot road in the middle of Fort McPherson to connect Thorne and Dietz avenues. But the stretch of asphalt is located in the middle of one of the most closely watched redevelopment efforts in metro Atlanta. And Brian Hooker, executive director of the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority, says it's vital.


Hooker yesterday said the street is needed to ensure access to patients visiting the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical center located on the former military and close the deal. Tyler Perry Studios is set to purchase the vast majority of the 487-acre former base in southwest Atlanta. And part of the property the filmmaker wants includes the road serving some of the V.A. facilities.

Two board members expressed concern about the economic development agency and TADs being used as a backup funding source for the multiple projects in the city.

Julian Bene, an Invest Atlanta board member who sits on the subcommittee, questioned why the agency was stepping in to help resolve "what seems like to make up for a negotiating impasse between the three parties."

"We have to be very careful about Invest Atlanta not becoming the piggy bank where you can borrow money for your kids when you’re saving for when you have an infrastructure need," said Constance Barkley-Lewis, another board member.

But Barkley-Lewis said conversations with Atlanta City Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd, who represents the area that includes Fort McPherson, helped sway her opinion. Sheperd, Barkley-Lewis said, made the case that this investment would help close the deal, which would fuel development in the area, and by doing so, generate more funding that could be used for improvement.

C. Courtney Knight, Invest Atlanta's managing director of redevelopment, agreed: "It’s a $500,000 road that gives us lots of juice."

Why use public money for a project that arose out of discussions between the V.A., Tyler Perry, and MILRA?

"The answer is simple: we are building infrastructure that not only will serve the V.A., but the future new redevelopment as we are currently envisioning it now," Hooker told CL. "This is not a road that Tyler Perry will use. And this is not a road that the taxpayers who support the V.A. should have to fund because they already have the rights to it. It's not buying them anything new."

So it makes sense, Hooker says, that MILRA and its partner, the city, should pay the cost. Hooker also says that Perry is giving up a sliver of the 300 acres that he plans to purchase to make room for the road.

The discussion about funding the Fort McPherson road came a few minutes after a short discussion related to another "catalytic" project — a road extension that a developer says is vital to helping them move forward on building a Publix in a northwest Atlanta food desert. That effort has been held up for years and supporters fear further delay could cause the developer to scuttle the plans. Invest Atlanta or the city could step in to help make the project a reality.

A fact sheet about the road project indicates the V.A. is interested in also adding to its real estate portfolio inside the base. Matt Garbett, an Adair Park resident who's been involved in the redevelopment process since the Perry deal was announced, had suspected as much after first hearing about the funding request.

"They're obviously in negotiations with the V.A. to sell some land," Garbett says. "Another part of the plan thrown out, since just last year they told us they didn't want a federal enclave."

Hooker says the V.A. is interested in "not only expanding there but beyond."

"If they doubled tripled their footprint, it'd still be only 20 acres," Hooker says, adding that a larger presence would not cause the property to be filled with government agencies. "There's plenty of opportunity of us to get the commercial development and the residential."



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