Fort Mac acreage in limbo as board OKs building sale to FDA

The Fort McPherson development authority board on Monday approved the sale of a key command building on the former Army post for a future lab and offices for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a deal that will ultimately bring 350 highly paid FDA workers to Fort Mac.

But the master plan to redevelop all of the 145 acres the agency controls appears to be headed back to square one.

The McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority, or Fort Mac LRA board, also voted to give its interim executive director power to negotiate a potential buyout of master developer Stephen Macauley.

The authority and Macauley have been at loggerheads for months, and in recent weeks Macauley's lawyer wrote the LRA board with terms for a buyout, which could cost several million dollars. Fort Mac LRA Chairman Cassius Butts said a buyout isn't certain, but the fact the board is entertaining such a move is a sign the relationship is too troubled to salvage.

The LRA and Macauley have endured months of acrimony with both sides accusing the other of being in default of their contract. A buyout would allow the authority to proceed with a new developer with a fresh start, but it would further set back a long-delayed process to convert the former Army post into a mixed-use community.

Macauley, who proposed a $700 million redevelopment of the authority’s acreage, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Filmmaker Tyler Perry, meanwhile, appeared to be interested in buying all or part of the remaining Fort Mac land while talks with Macauley stalled, texts obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed. Perry also has previously expressed interest in the FORSCOM building.

In those texts, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms appeared to back Perry’s vision, which included a center for trafficking victims. Bottoms hasn’t commented on Perry’s potential interest in additional Fort McPherson land or on the FDA deal.

The LRA controls about 145 acres at Fort Mac. The agency took control of the 488-acre post in 2015 and that year sold about 330 acres to Perry for $30 million.

Monday’s approval of the $17 million sale of the Forces Command or FORSCOM building to Easterly Government Properties is the largest project at Fort Mac to get the green light since Perry built his bustling studio complex.

“We’re really pleased to see the board do the right thing and getting Fort Mac moving,” said Easterly Chairman Darrell Crate.

But the FDA vote came with some drama.

Bottoms appeared before the board and said she was committed to southside redevelopment. She then addressed directors in executive session for about an hour.

Officials with Easterly said during executive session they didn’t know what the mayor’s appearance meant for the deal.

“We have a signed contract and we’ve performed under that contract and we’re ready to close tomorrow,” Crate said.

Crate told the AJC during the board’s executive session that the company would go to court to exercise its contract rights if the Fort Mac board didn’t vote to approve the deal.

After her remarks behind closed doors, Bottoms declined to answer questions about her message to the board or expound on her views about redevelopment of the closed fort.

Bottoms’ chief of staff, Carmen Chubb, who is a member of the authority board, was the lone vote against the deal with Easterly. Chubb also declined to answer questions about her vote.

Ten board members approved of the FDA project and Fulton County Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr. abstained.

Our reporting

The AJC reported last month on emails and other documents that showed the Fort Mac LRA and master developer Stephen Macauley were at odds, with each side alleging the other was in default of their two-year-old development agreement. The agency’s board also failed to meet for nearly five months, which put in peril a deal to sell a key command building for a future FDA lab. Texts later obtained by the AJC showed filmmaker Tyler Perry expressed interest in further development at Fort Mac beyond the 330 acres he controls.