Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms took no questions as she left a closed-door meeting Monday over a plan to sell a piece of Fort McPherson for a future FDA laboratory.
Now The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned that Bottoms tried to convince the fort’s development agency to delay the FDA deal and instead consider selling the former command building and the agency’s remaining 145 acres to filmmaker Tyler Perry, who already owns 330 acres of the former Army post.
The McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority or Fort Mac LRA ultimately rejected the Perry offer. The episode helps explain why Bottoms and Perry on Tuesday publicly bashed the agency as “shortsighted” for approving the FDA deal.
It also confirms earlier reporting by the AJC that showed Bottoms supported Perry’s interest in acquiring part or all of the former fort as negotiations between the agency and its master developer, Stephen Macauley, were at an impasse. Records previously obtained by the AJC show Bottoms appeared to be exerting influence on the authority.
Bottoms pitched a Perry deal to the Fort Mac LRA board Monday during executive session, according to City Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd, who is also a non-voting member of the authority board, and two other people with direct knowledge of the situation.
Perry offered $30 million for the 145 acres and the former Forces Command or FORSCOM building, Sheperd and the two people told the AJC.
Spokespeople for Bottoms, Perry and the authority board did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Fort Mac’s closure in 2011 crippled surrounding neighborhoods still reeling from the Great Recession. In 2015, Perry acquired the bulk of Fort Mac for $30 million and has since built a bustling film studio.
A Perry deal would have essentially ended the agency’s ties with Macauley, who after more than two years in the role appears to be on his way out.
Perry’s plans unclear
Bottoms’ appearance Monday at the Fort Mac LRA was the first board meeting she’d attended since assuming the office of mayor. She arrived with her security detail and top spokesmen Peter Kadushin and Michael Smith and attorney Alvin Kendall.
In brief public remarks to the board before the executive session, Bottoms said she was committed to redevelopment of southwest Atlanta and Fort Mac.
“I wanted to make myself available to you to answer any questions or express any concerns you may have about the city’s position on the future of Fort Mac,” Bottoms told the board in brief public remarks without disclosing her position or the Perry proposal.
She also noted the board is accountable to the state and the city of Atlanta, which had provided the agency a financial lifeline earlier this year.
For the next hour in closed session, Bottoms and Kendall, discussed the Perry proposal.
Sheperd said Bottoms was cordial. The mayor said Perry’s plan to acquire the entire site was better than selling the command building on its own.
The extent of Perry’s plans for the land wasn’t fully described.
Bottoms asserted a sale to Easterly would “make or break” future redevelopment of Fort Mac, Sheperd said.
The Fort Mac LRA board alone is responsible for property negotiations, and one attendee said members were surprised Bottoms presented a deal negotiated on its behalf.
Declining to answer questions as she left the meeting, Bottoms said she would “defer comment to the board.”
Board rejects Bottoms’ overture
Board members resumed deliberations in closed session for about an hour.
On the table was a $17 million offer from Easterly Government Properties. The real estate company plans to renovate the FORSCOM building and lease it to the FDA, which plans to relocate its office and labs and 350 highly paid government workers from Midtown.
The alternative was to spurn Easterly and open negotiations with Perry. But such a move risked litigation. While the board was deliberating in executive session, Easterly Chairman Darrell Crate told the AJC his firm would go to court to exercise its contract rights if the board didn’t approve the FDA deal.
Sheperd said Perry’s pitch for the FORSCOM building and 145 acres for $30 million, a fraction of the Easterly proposal on a per acre basis, simply wasn’t good enough.
Talks with Perry also haven’t always panned out. Perry negotiated for much of 2017 and 2018 to buy the FORSCOM building only to withdraw.
In June 2017, Perry offered $6 million for the the command building and 10 acres, a document obtained by the AJC shows. That same month, Easterly offered to buy the office complex and 12 acres for $16.5 million.
After a series of offers and counter offers, Perry, then-Mayor Kasim Reed and the authority’s then-chairman agreed to a deal. Perry would buy the building and 16 surrounding acres for $17 million.
But talks collapsed by mid-2018 and the authority worked out a deal with Easterly.
Perry, Bottoms unload
When the board returned to open session Monday, Carmen Chubb, Bottoms’ chief of staff, was the lone board vote against the Easterly deal. The lopsided tally was rare rebuke by a board that the mayor has influence in appointing.
A day later, Perry and Bottoms unloaded in the AJC.
Perry said the board has failed its mission to redevelop its property.
Bottoms said in a statement the board “squandered an opportunity,” but her statement didn’t disclose Perry’s offer.
Sheperd said she has “the utmost respect” for Perry and Bottoms and believes both are committed to redeveloping Atlanta’s southside.
But the Fort Mac LRA board made the right call, Sheperd said.
“The sale of the FDA building sends a positive message to developers and the community that there is interest in something coming to the southside of Atlanta,” she said.
It remains unclear, however, what will become of the base’s remaining 145 undeveloped acres. On Monday, the LRA initiated a process that could soon lead to extricating itself from the development deal with Macauley, who has plans for a mixed-use community of offices, restaurants, retail, hotels and about 2,400 residences, with most homes reserved for rents below market rates.
On Tuesday, Perry told the AJC he had “no interest” in buying additional Fort Mac land. Perry also said he didn’t think another developer would be willing to work around the FDA lab, echoing what Bottoms said.
Perry told the AJC he would build retail, restaurants and other amenities on his land, and said a museum, studio tours and a 3,500-seat theater or amphitheater remain in the works. Perry also confirmed he’s planning to build a center to support victims of human trafficking.
Sheperd said the outlook for the post is bright. In 2015, Perry was the only suitor with ready cash to invest in the complex.
Today, the former Army post is within an Opportunity Zone, a powerful federal incentive for blighted areas that’s attracting developers to parts of Atlanta starved for new investment. The nearby southern crescent of the Beltline, a development engine across much of the city, Sheperd said, is booming.
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