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Filmmaker Perry gets OK to buy former military base in Ga.

By LEON STAFFORD AND J. SCOTT TRUBEY | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Tribune News Service) | Published: June 27, 2015

The fate of Fort McPherson is now in the hands of filmmaker Tyler Perry, after the agency overseeing the post's redevelopment voted Friday to wrap up the deal to sell him the bulk of the property.

The complicated sale, concluded after a year of contentious negotiations, formally closed Friday with the U.S. Army within hours of the vote. Perry, the actor, writer, producer and director, will control 330 of the fort's 488 acres for a planned movie studio, while the civilian agency will retain 144 acres for future redevelopment.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has said the deal will bring jobs and revitalization to an oft-forgotten section of the city.

"It's an exciting time for us. We are actually going to get started," said Brian Hooker, head of the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority, said in an interview.

Perry could not be reached for comment Friday.

Community leaders, who waited to speak to authority staff and board members for two hours after members went into executive session on the sale, were largely resigned about the deal's fate.

"Maybe this is not the impact we were hoping for, but it's what we got," said Allean Brown, who has followed the redevelopment ups and downs since the post's closing.

But state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, said the transaction could be unconstitutional and prompt a lawsuit. Fort said the sale price of $30 million is far less than the appraised value of the property and that could run afoul of the state's gratuities clause.

That clause prohibits government from providing a good, service or property without an equitable return.

"What we were doing was waiting until Tyler Perry actually owned the property," he said. "At that point the issues become ripe legally."

A prior lawsuit by a competing studio group that challenged the deal on different grounds was dismissed because a sale had not yet occurred.

Many in the neighborhoods south of downtown have been split over the pending sale to Perry. While residents of communities around the sprawling compound are hungry for jobs and investment, some have feared that the new movie studio will stand as a slightly smaller walled-off fortress dividing neighborhoods as the post did under the Army.

Some favored the initial vision for the post's redevelopment, which included a life sciences campus and mixed-use development, but city and redevelopment officials said that plan wasn't feasible.

Reed announced a plan to sell most of the post to Perry last June.

The closing of the deal concludes a year of prolonged negotiations that at times were nearly derailed. At one point, Perry's representatives threatened to walk, and Reed had Gov. Nathan Deal remove a critic of the Perry deal from the authority's board and add the mayor's political allies.

The deal also has been complicated by some environmental remediation issues that Hooker said are being addressed. In April, the city backed a $13 million line of credit to help aid the closing. It's a backstop in case there's a hitch in Perry's payment schedule as a result of the cleanup effort.

The sale now brings the post, founded in 1885 and closed in 2011, under civilian control.

The Army wanted $26 million for the sprawling post between downtown and Atlanta's airport, and Perry's money essentially will finance the purchase of the entire complex for the authority.

Perry will control the bulk of the land, including the post's former golf course, key office buildings and the fort's historic parade grounds and officers' quarters. Under the terms of the agreement, Perry will build a campus in the center of the post with up to 16 soundstages -- about three times what he has at his current campus near Greenbriar Mall -- and relocate 350 jobs.

The McPherson authority is tasked with determining a future for the remaining acreage it will retain.

That property stretches largely along Campbellton Road and Lee Street in an inverted U-shape. It includes the main office cluster and the historic McPherson village.

The Veterans Administration controls the bulk of the remaining property at the post.

Offices for federal agencies, government contractors and media companies as well as retail, restaurants and apartments were among the ideas outlined this month by a panel of development experts with the Urban Land Institute.

Among the former post's strengths is that the VA wants to expand its medical facilities, Monte Wilson, a planner with Jacobs Engineering and chairman of the institute's team, said last week.

A launching point for redevelopment, the panel said, could involve rehabbing the fort's historic village in the northeast quadrant of the post and turning it into neighborhood retail and restaurants.

Vardiyah Yshra-el said she hoped members of the nearby community get the jobs constructing whatever development springs forth. She also implored the group to strike a balance between single-family homes and apartments, which she said bring many transient residents. And she wants controls put on taxes so that those who are already residents aren't priced out of the community.

"I don't want my house going up because of taxes," she told agency members to great laughter. "Don't make me come to y'all house."

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(c)2015 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)
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Tyler Perry on stage March 2, 2014, during the 86th annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles.
ROBERT GAUTHIER/LOS ANGELES TIMES/MCT

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