Neighborhoods - Fort McPherson

Five Public Projects that could fundamentally change Atlanta neighborhoods.

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Photo credit: Joeff Davis
WHITE FLAG: Though only portions of Fort McPherson's redevelopment will directly help nearby neighborhoods, some residents insist that the area needs businesses of any kind.

Numerous local officials have described Fort McPherson’s redevelopment as an unprecedented opportunity to reshape southwest Atlanta. Uncertainty lingered for years around the longtime military base’s future. That all changed last summer when Reed made a surprise announcement that filmmaker Tyler Perry would purchase roughly 330 acres to build a film studio complex for a discounted price of $30 million.

If the deal gets approved, the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority — the state-created entity tasked with transforming the southwest Atlanta base — would have another 144 acres at its disposal for potential redevelopment. MILRA Executive Director Brian Hooker hopes to break ground this year.

MILRA would control two plots of land. One swath along Lee Street might include a mixed-used development with retail shops, restaurants, office space, and a hotel that serves both Tyler Perry Studios and the surrounding communities. The second major portion, located off Campbellton Road, would include smaller community-scale developments that mesh with neighborhoods north of the base.

Some residents and elected officials have blasted the deal for its lack of transparency and community input. Former MILRA board member Ayesha Khanna, who was ousted after voting against the Perry deal, doesn’t think the bulk of the land provides the right kind of economic benefits needed in the surrounding underserved communities. Like other public projects in communities that have lacked development, fears about potential gentrification have followed the initial excitement around more jobs, retail, and residents.

The opponents are vocal. But there are plenty of residents who are working with MILRA to find a way forward. Gamba Stewart, a Sylvan Hills resident and MILRA community engagement committee representative, says it doesn’t matter what specific kind of coffee shop or grocery store MILRA chooses for Fort McPherson. His community needs those businesses, period.

Stewart says the film complex will bring people to the community in a way that’s different from self-contained factories in southwest Atlanta. He says the project could help Sylvan Hills, Adair Park, and Oakland City by lowering vacancy rates, building stronger communities, and boosting property values. That will require smart, urban development that hasn’t been seen there in years.

“That means not just high-end services unaffordable to the people who live here,” Stewart says. “But restaurants and grocery stores that serve the needs of the community and have a mixed level of items available to people making different incomes.”

Both sides agree that Fort McPherson is headed into uncharted territory for southwest Atlanta. Whether those future decisions transform southwest Atlanta or squander its biggest opportunity in a generation remain to be seen.