Sale of Fort McPherson inches closer; Army could transfer property by end of month


A deal that paves the way for the conversion of Fort McPherson into a Tyler Perry Studios-centric slice of Hollywood in the Deep South will be signed soon.

“That deal will likely close by the end of the month,” Brian Hooker, executive director of the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority, said at a meeting of Neighborhood Planning Unit S on Thursday night. “We’ve already scheduled the closing celebration.”

Note that the aforementioned deal is not the sale of the base to the filmmaker. It is the sale of 475 acres from the U.S. Army to MILRA, a state authority created to figure out what to do with the shuttered military base. MILRA then plans to sell 330 of those acres to Tyler Perry Studios for $30 million. The rest of the property will turn into mixed-use developments anchored by and supporting the film and television industry, Hooker said.

The Perry deal has attracted strong pushback from some residents and observers who argue that turning a former base into a walled-off studio doesn't take advantage of the property's potential. A recent proposal to use public cash to build a $610,000 road through the base has also raised concerns.

Supporters, including Mayor Kasim Reed, argue that the megaproperty hasn't attracted much interest from other industries, including those originally envisioned for the base's post-military life, and that Perry's investment could boost nearby neighborhoods.

Hooker said the project will create 10,000 jobs over ten years. In addition to film jobs, he said, Hooker's counting what it takes to support film: office and clerical jobs, restaurants and stores. Besides that, he fort’s existing Veterans Affairs hospital wants to expand, bringing more medical jobs.

But as Hooker finished his speech, a little heckling slowed his progress toward the door — mostly about the “closing celebration.” It’ll be open to the public, he said, but it will be in the middle of the day.

“That’s not being friendly to the community,” one voice said, because the public is working in the middle of the day. Hooker said there will also be a festival in the fall.

Afterward, some of the meeting attendees said they’re glad Perry is moving in and they’re glad to finally see investment in a piece of property that potential buyers haven’t exactly been fighting over. What they’re nervous about is potentially being cut off from the jobs, homes, and businesses that are supposed to make up this renaissance.

“It is walled away from the community,” said Barbara Burson, one of the neighbors at the meeting.

Burson is not talking about the fortress walls — she’s wondering if the new neighbors will come off their campus for stuff like neighborhood clean-up days. She’s also uncertain how young people in the surrounding neighborhoods will get the training and interviews they will need to work in film.

“There need to be things we can participate in,” she said.

Hooker said MILRA is looking into seeing if it can do something along the lines of Westside Works, a jobs-training program that aims to link residents of Vine City, English Avenue, and Castleberry Hill to work in construction and healthcare industries.

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