A local entertainment company has filed a legal challenge to Tyler Perry’s plans to build a motion picture studio at Fort McPherson.
Attorneys for Ubiquitous Entertainment Studios say the company has been planning its own “movie studio entertainment complex” on the Army post for years.
According to the lawsuit, filed in federal court this week, the firm began meeting with the civilian authority overseeing Fort McPherson’s redevelopment about its plans as far back as 2011. UES wanted to buy 80 acres of the 488-acre post.
But purchasing the land was put on hold, according to the suit, because the civilian authority overseeing Fort McPherson redevelopment said it couldn’t negotiate an offer until it owned the property sometime in 2014.
Mayor Kasim Reed confirmed in June that the city has been in negotiations with Tyler Perry Studios to purchase a majority share of the property. Under the proposal, the filmmaker would buy much of the post from the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority for $33 million.
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MILRA voted last month to begin formal negotiations with Perry. Speaking to a city council committee Wednesday, Reed said the deal now calls for Perry to take control of 330 acres, the city to receive as much as 144 acres (Reed has previously said the city will receive 125 acres) and for the Veterans Affairs hospital to have about 40 acres.
The AJC has reached out to Reed’s office for clarification as those figures exceed the total acreage of the site.
Reed said he expects to sign a memorandum of understanding with Perry within the next 45 days.
UES, according to the lawsuit, believes Reed and MILRA’s actions violate the authority’s by-laws. It’s asking for a declaratory judgment and damages.
“In effect, MILRA confirmed an exclusive franchise or property interest in the Ft. McPherson property to Perry and [Tyler Perry Studios] on a non-bid, non-request for proposal basis, with no advance public notice to give UES and other potential property developers an opportunity to compete for this real estate development. These acts and omissions of MILRA in this regard were arbitrary and capricious government conduct.”
The suit names MILRA, the U.S. Army, other federal agencies, Tyler Perry and his company as defendants.
Jack Sprott, MILRA’s executive director, said Thursday that the authority has not been served with the lawsuit.
City officials, who are not named in the filing, declined comment. A representative for Perry did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
The lawsuit comes amid mixed reactions to the Perry proposal. At a Thursday meeting of the MILRA board, some residents asked for more information about the plan while others criticized how it came about.
Stephen Knight questioned whether it was proper for Reed to strike a deal with Perry and then bring the proposal to MILRA for consideration.
“If the mayor can go out there to save face for himself and make a deal and bring it to this table and have you negotiate it, why can’t you let other people come and present it?” Knight said. “You might’ve gotten a better deal than with Mr. Perry.”
Others have previously praised the deal as a concrete opportunity to bring jobs and development to the post.
State. Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, pleaded with the MILRA board Thursday that no matter what comes of Fort McPherson, the plan must involve the local community.
Residents there have spent years working with MILRA, Atlanta and East Point officials crafting a master plan that called for preserving historic buildings, green space and designated property for homelessness service providers.
It’s unclear how the potential sale would impact those elements.
Fort also echoed repeated calls from members of the community for more information about the proposal. MILRA board members have said they can’t discuss the details because negotiations are ongoing.
“I would implore you to provide as much information about how this deal came to fruition, how it’s developing and how it’s working. You can do that without putting the deal at risk,” Fort said. “The community, I will tell you this, the community is skeptical about what is going on over here.”