Tyler Perry's Fort McPherson studio dreams to become a reality
Critics still irate over 'illegal' land grab
The sale of the bulk of Fort McPherson to Atlanta film mogul Tyler Perry is now a done deal after a year's worth of delays, criticism, and legal challenges.
As many people celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark same-sex marriage decision last Friday, board members with the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority, the state agency tasked with overseeing the former military base’s redevelopment, approved the sale of 330 acres for $30 million during a special-called meeting. The decision clears the way for Perry to move forward with building a massive film studio, despite the push back from some community members.
MILRA, which initially closed on the 500-acre former military base in September 2011, had planned to redevelop the base into a mixed-use development and bioscience hub. But after the lead developer backed out in early 2014, Perry emerged as a surprise replacement, one who didn't go through a competitive bidding process. Nevertheless, the U.S. Army's complex requirements for decommissioning a former post, a short-lived legal battle, and financing hiccups further delayed the project's timeline.
“More than three years since the closing of Fort McPherson, we have today taken a great step forward for the former post and for the surrounding community,” said MILRA Board Chair Felker Ward said in a statement last Friday. “We look forward now to significant investment by hometown entertainment entrepreneur Tyler Perry, and we will move forward with further planning for the 145 remaining acres of the site.”
Perry will first hand over $30 million to MILRA for the land. Then the state agency would pay the U.S. Army $26 million for the full base, a necessary step since the military doesn't work directly with commercial developers on such deals. MILRA's first $13 million payment would be paid up front, while the remaining half would be paid over a seven-year period. MILRA would be first in line to purchase the filmmaker's land at market value should he ever decide to sell his properties. (Read the full contract here)
Perry plans to build a major film complex with up to 16 sound stages that are expected to be fenced off from adjacent communities. The deal requires Perry to only develop the land into a film studio, unless given permission otherwise from MILRA. It also grants MILRA exclusive rights on the former military base to build lodging, hardware stores, a groceries, or restaurants. Both parties are banned from letting adult businesses, head shops, gun shops, pet stores, bars, clubs, and several other types of establishments from opening on the former base.
In a statement to the AJC, Perry thanked officials for their support and said he "looked forward to helping lift this area to the greatness that we know it could be." Mayor Kasim Reed, comparing the deal to the likes of Ponce City Market and Buckhead Atlanta, said the deal will open a new chapter of "job creation, business expansion and community development in South Atlanta."
"I am looking forward to the day when Fort McPherson is a catalyst for change in one of our most important neighborhoods," said Reed, who was out of the country visiting Cuba on an economic development trip when MILRA approved the deal.
MILRA would own the remaining 145 acres of the base located in two separate chunks along Campbellton Road and Lee Street. With the deal complete, MILRA Executive Director Brian Hooker said in a statement the authority would seek to build a "walkable urban community of commercial mixed-use development." In a recent interview, Hooker told CL his vision for the MILRA property includes retail shops, restaurants, office spaces, and a hotel that complements the film studio. He also noted that development will be largely informed by recommendations from an upcoming Livable Centers Initiative study awarded to the city four months ago.
"This, in turn, enables us to deliver the community benefits to which we are committed,” Hooker said in a statement.
Some opponents of the Tyler Perry sale remain outspoken about the deal's problems. State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, told Saporta Report the deal is "illegal and unconstitutional" given the steep discount Perry received for the land. Fort, a fierce critic of the deal given the lack of transparency and public process, called for MILRA to tap the brakes on the deal or else be subject to potential legal action. A judge last fall tossed out one legal challenge from a prospective developer because the sale had not yet been finalized.
“Perry is getting a 60 percent discount on the property,” Fort said. “The state Constitution prohibits gratuity. I have had the law researched by people with legal expertise in this area, and this goes against Constitutional law. You can not give a gratuity — sell the land for less than what it’s worth."
During public comment at Friday's special-called meeting, West End resident Alan Holmes criticized the deal for its lack of public involvement for southwest Atlanta residents since Perry was announced as a prospective buyer.
“When you leave here today, you’re going to go back to where you all live. You won’t have to deal with the effects of the decisions you all are making," said Alan Holmes, according to WABE-FM (90.1).
A public ceremony to celebrate the deal will be held on July 13. The details are still being finalized.