MILRA head: Fort McPherson walls will come down

However, head of former base’s redevelopment effort says Tyler Perry studio will require fences


  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • Head of redevelopment effort addresses economic development, homelessness, and future of base’s historic properties

In the May 28 issue of CL, guest columnist Matt Garbett critiqued the decision to sell off much of Fort McPherson, the 487-acre former military base in southwest Atlanta, to Tyler Perry Studios. The filmmaker wants to buy 330 acres for a film studio complex. Brian Hooker is the executive director of the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority, the agency tasked with redeveloping the property and the remaining 144 acres. In the submitted op-ed below, Hooker responds to some criticisms about the proposed deal and how the former base will be redeveloped.

There have been a number of questions and concerns about the upcoming Tyler Perry Studios deal at Fort McPherson. It seems there is a lot of misinformation not just about the deal, but also about plans for redevelopment. As Executive Director of McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority (MILRA), the entity in charge of the redevelopment, I am happy to answer these questions.

Why is MILRA focusing on economic development rather than community development?

The primary mission for redeveloping Fort McPherson is economic development — job creation — the foundation of community development. Without a strong economic base, a community cannot support quality housing, commercial and retail services, and public green spaces that every neighborhood deserves.

When the post closed, over 6,000 jobs vanished. Our mission is to replace those jobs and add more. But demographics around the fort do not attract real estate investors. Within a three-mile radius of Fort McPherson, one in three households earn $15,000 per year or less. Forty-one percent of residents have only a high school diploma, and 40 percent have no diploma. Most work sales or service jobs. Ten percent of housing is vacant and of the 52 percent of families who rent, 38 percent of them devote more than a third of their income to rent. Here, community development will not happen without economic development.

Employed people are empowered people, and MILRA’s focus on creating jobs is a commitment to the families of this community. This film studio deal alone projects the relocation of 350 jobs from its current site and an additional 3,900-8,300 permanent and contract production and construction jobs, placing MILRA well on our way towards our goal.

But aren’t film studios walled off from the public? Will the community have access to the property?

This question concerns the unsightly walls along Campbellton Road and Lee Street. MILRA will retain 144 acres along those road frontages specifically to make sure those walls come down. As would be the case with a corporate headquarters or academic campus, a fence will be necessary around the property owned by Tyler Perry Studios. 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. Also, the studio model proposed for Fort McPherson is different than most studios where film-supportive retail is either scattered across the community or exists solely inside the studio complex and is thus closed off to the public. Rather, the Tyler Perry Studios model proposes film-supportive retail be developed adjacent to the studio complex and shared with the community. Housing and hotels, building materials suppliers, restaurants and catering are all examples of the types of development that will benefit the community as well as the film studio.

What will happen to the historic buildings on the property?

All historically-protected buildings will remain for renovation or reuse. 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.

Why can’t the City of Atlanta buy the property and search for an alternate investor?

MILRA is confident that Tyler Perry is the right partner to transform Fort McPherson and its surrounding communities. Recall that the closing of the post was announced in 2005, and it has taken until 2015 to secure a well-qualified investor with a verifiable track record like Tyler Perry who is willing to build in this historically disenfranchised area. MILRA has sought many options over those years, the most promising of which (the research park) was exhaustively explored, vetted, and reworked before determining that it was not feasible at this location. Despite this reality, some advocate that Atlanta taxpayers should risk not only the $26 million purchase price but also bear the burden of $3.5 million per year to maintain the property under the uncertain hope that a better offer would appear. We agree with Mayor Kasim Reed and the Atlanta City Council that supporting the current deal is far preferable to any other alternative. So MILRA is focused on leveraging the opportunity in hand with a world-class, hometown entrepreneur who is ready to catalyze change in neighborhoods hungry for it.

What about the homeless commitment?

MILRA is unwavering in our commitment to our homeless obligation, a commitment that amounts to hundreds of permanent housing units and office space for homeless support services. This is a significant challenge, but we are excited about continuing to explore the ways this can be achieved.

We welcome questions and concerns as part of a necessary dialogue to engage and educate our community. As a public entity, MILRA strives to provide reliable information to keep everyone informed. MILRA’s Board meetings and Subcommittee meetings are open to the public. Our Community Engagement Subcommittee has the specific mission to bring the community perspective to the Board. We welcome all to attend, and we encourage the public to get engaged.