Tyler Perry, the creator of the “Madea” film franchise, could soon turn a large portion of defunct Fort McPherson into a major movie and television studio.
The civilian board tasked with redeveloping the former Army post south of downtown Atlanta voted Wednesday to begin formal negotiations with the filmmaker.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said such a development will draw other businesses to the area and further solidify Georgia’s growing reputation as a major player in the film industry.
“I think Mr. Perry is one of the most creative and successful people in all of entertainment,” Reed said. The mayor said it is important to keep the Tyler Perry Studios brand in the city to “draw more and more businesses to the city and strengthen our position as a leader in (the film industry).”
Perry’s representatives did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday.
The actor, director, writer and producer has been in talks with city officials about acquiring Fort McPherson property for months, and those discussions have now evolved to include the civilian-led authority overseeing the post’s redevelopment.
The McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority, or MILRA, is expected to soon acquire the entire post from the Army for about $30 million.
Perry’s company would then purchase an undetermined amount of land there for $30 million to $35 million, one person said. The MILRA board would have to approve the transaction.
Should the city, MILRA and Perry consummate a deal, the project could anchor redevelopment of the nearly 500-acre former Army post, which closed in 2011, and potentially spur revitalization of the surrounding southwest communities.
Recently, officials in Clayton County announced a Kroger distribution center would become the first major tenant in the shuttered Fort Gillem.
Felker Ward Jr., chair of the MILRA board, declined comment following the board’s vote Wednesday, noting it would be premature to discuss the proposal.
Doris Hines, an Atlanta Technical College community relations coordinator who regularly attends MILRA meetings, said she was excited at the prospect of Perry coming to the post.
“It’s job opportunities and putting money back into the community, where it’s needed,” she said. “We’re talking about economic development in this neighborhood. That’s a positive.”
Perry has grown from a struggling playwright who moved to metro Atlanta in the early 1990s into an entertainment mogul.
He’s produced TV comedies such as “Meet the Browns” and “House of Payne,” and he’s also currently producing shows for Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network.
Perry has discussed only in vague terms plans to expand in metro Atlanta. A Perry executive told state economic development leaders earlier this year that the media impresario planned a $200 million expansion of his current 60-acre facility near Greenbriar Mall.
In addition to his entertainment interests, Perry has also been an investor in real estate that others have overlooked.
Companies tied to Perry also have acquired more than 1,000 acres in Douglas County, a few miles west of Six Flags Over Georgia, fueling speculation that he could build a new studio there.
Perry nor Douglas County officials have said what he plans to do with the land, at least some of which was once set to be developed into a subdivision before plans unraveled.
Jeff Noles, the head of the Douglasville Development Authority, said the city has not received any plans or permits to develop the land.
Reed said he has worked to keep Perry from relocating his business to the suburbs.
“He’s had an amazing career in Atlanta,” Reed said. “And I wanted to do everything I could to have him keep his businesses here.”
Locking-in Perry’s operations at Fort McPherson keeps a popular entertainment brand within the city limits. A departure by Perry could be a blow to Atlanta, which still must sort out the fate of Turner Field after the Braves leave for Cobb County. Reed and city leaders also are trying to determine future uses for property assets including the Civic Center and Underground Atlanta.
Perry will eventually unveil his redevelopment vision to the city and to neighboring communities around the post, Reed said. The mayor said preserving the post’s historic structures is integral to the plan.
Redeveloping Fort McPherson has been a city and state priority since Mayor Shirley Franklin’s administration.
A studio complex at Fort McPherson also could be the latest large-scale film campus announcement over the past few years as Hollywood has invaded Georgia to tap into the state’s rich film and television incentives. Pinewood Studios, for instance, recently opened its first U.S. film-making campus in Fayette County, southwest of the city, where Marvel’s “Antman” will be filmed.
Hollywood spent more than $930 million in Georgia during fiscal year 2013, according to the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office. That’s more than three times the spending of just a few years ago.
Still, some criticize the film incentives as coming at a hefty cost. Georgia took a hit of $250 million to the state treasury from 2008-2011 from companies exercising those tax credits.
While Perry’s potential movie studio would take top billing at Fort McPherson, it is not clear what will become of most of the remaining land. The Army post has long been envisioned as a potential life-sciences center along with a mixed-use hub of shops, restaurants, offices and residences. The Department of Veterans Affairs operates an outpatient clinic there.
Reed has previously said Fort McPherson could be used as a “hedge,” or source of additional property, to help relieve concerns about the city not having enough affordable housing.