Training center? Land swap? Film studio? An explainer

Making sense of everything going on in one corner of southern DeKalb County

There’s a lot going on with the South River Forest these days.

On the southwestern side of DeKalb County, not far from city of Atlanta limits, the Atlanta Police Foundation is planning to build a big new public safety training center.

Just a bit to the east, a man named Ryan Millsap is seemingly ramping up for development of another piece of property he obtained in a controversial land swap with DeKalb County.

Explore'Forest defenders' use extreme tactics in fight to 'stop cop city'

Further south lies the campus of Millsap’s former film studio. The facility now known as Shadowbox Studios is planning a massive expansion on yet another piece of nearby property.

The various situations are complicated and tensions are high. It’s hard to keep track of who has say-so over what happens, and where. Plans and parcels and bigger picture issues get conflated.

Here’s an explainer of the properties in question.

The training center site: 561 Key Road

  • 300 acres of forested land located in southwestern DeKalb County but owned by the city of Atlanta.
  • Former site of a prison farm. Currently hosts some police training activities, including a firing range.
  • Leased in Sept. 2021 to the Atlanta Police Foundation, which plans to build a $90 million public safety training center across roughly 85 acres.
  • DeKalb County has no real say-so in what happens on the site, outside of approving the necessary land disturbance permits.
  • As of Aug. 8, those permits were still pending.
  • Self-dubbed “forest defenders” have taken up residence for months to protest the plan, sometimes in extreme or violent ways

The land swap property: 3251 West Side Place

  • 40 forested acres on the northwest corner of Constitution Road and West Side Place.
  • Longtime home for Intrenchment Creek Park’s South River Trailhead.
  • Obtained by Blackhall Real Estate Phase II LLC and Ryan Millsap, the founder of Blackhall Studios, in a 2021 land swap with DeKalb County. County received three parcels further north that it plans to use to create a more contiguous Michelle Obama Park.
  • While the swap was finalized, it’s also the subject of a lawsuit filed by the South River Watershed Alliance and the South River Forest Coalition.
  • Millsap obtained the property in order to develop it, but his current plans are unclear.
  • Millsap sold Blackhall Studios, which has an existing campus south of Constitution Road, to a private equity firm in April 2021.
  • “Forest defenders” have targeted this property too

The actual movie studio: 1415 Constitution Road

  • Existing campus of Shadowbox Studios, formerly known as Blackhall Studios.
  • Has operated since 2017.
  • Now owned by Commonwealth Asset Management, a Los Angeles-based equity firm.
  • Operates nine sound studios for film and TV production
  • Has plans for big expansion on nearby property

The Shadowbox expansion site: 3600 International Park Drive

  • 155 undeveloped acres south of the existing Shadowbox campus
  • The studio is planning a massive expansion that would make it the largest film production site in Georgia
  • Officials say it also would mark the largest-ever investment in southern DeKalb County
  • The Decide DeKalb Development Authority approved in April a hefty incentives package that includes a conventional $34 million tax break in addition to a $34 million “infrastructure credit.”

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC