Fort Mac LRA Chairman Cassius Butts at a board meeting Thursday, July 11, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

More Fort Mac resignations leave agency in limbo

Two board members — including the chairman — of the agency overseeing redevelopment of Fort McPherson have resigned, a shake up almost certain to further delay the overhaul of the former Army post. 

Cassius Butts, a former regional director of the Small Business Administration, resigned Thursday as chairman of the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority board. Georgia Power executive Lisa Smith also has resigned. Their resignations expand a leadership vacuum at the troubled agency. A week earlier, the board approved a separation agreement with executive director Brian Hooker.

Taken together, the departures leave in limbo a small agency with a massive task — transforming the former Army installation into mixed-use community and jobs center in a corner of the city still reeling from the post’s 2011 closure and the Great Recession.

Aerial of the front gate at Fort McPherson shot from the east looking west on Aug. 24, 2005. AJC FILE PHOTO.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The authority, also known as Fort Mac LRA, controls about 145 acres at Fort McPherson. The LRA took control of the post in 2015 and that year sold about 330 acres of the property to filmmaker Tyler Perry for $30 million.

In that time, Perry has since built a bustling film studio where he shoots his own projects and rents space to other major Hollywood studios. But the LRA property remains a walled off and little-used eyesore.

To make matters worse, the LRA is at loggerheads with its hand-picked master developer. And the board also has failed to act at its last two meetings on an announced deal to transform a former command building into the new home of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Atlanta offices and laboratory.

A meeting set for next week is also likely to be delayed. It’s unclear if the board shake up and further delays might imperil the FDA project.

A text message left for Butts was not immediately returned. Spokesmen for Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the Fort Mac LRA did not return messages seeking comment.

Butts did not provide a reason for resigning the chairmanship. In his letter to Gov. Brian Kemp, Butts thanked the governor, former Gov. Nathan Deal and Bottoms for the opportunity to serve.

“It is critical that the chair of the LRA have the capacity to support the vision and direction of the authority,” Butts wrote. “Unfortunately, I am no longer able to do so. I wish the Fort McPherson LRA, the staff, its development stakeholders, and most importantly the community much success in its ongoing economic development endeavors.”

Under the LRA’s bylaws, the mayors of Atlanta and East Point each recommend five board candidates who are appointed by the governor, which also has an appointment of his own. The governor also selects the chair.

Fort Mac LRA Chairman Cassius Butts, left, greets developer Stephen Macauley at a board meeting for the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority earlier this month. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In May 2017, the LRA selected Stephen Macauley as master developer of 145 remaining acres. In February, the LRA board and Macauley appeared to be on the cusp of a more detailed development agreement when relations suddenly soured.

Macauley’s team accused the authority of needless delays coupled with impossible deadlines to meet planning and other milestones. Some of the communications included racial overtones with Macauley saying he was told he was being “coddled” because he is white.

The LRA raised questions about Macauley’s financial wherewithal and the collapse during the recession of his development business. Hooker also said the authority had misgivings about terms of the new proposed deal’s structure.

Added to the mix is apparent interest from Perry to acquire part or all of the remaining LRA land. Talks with Perry’s team occurred in secret while relations with Macauley grew strained.

Actor and producer Tyler Perry talks to a large crowd gathered for the Candle In The Dark Gala, celebrating the 150th anniversary of Morehouse College in Atlanta Ga February 18, 2017. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The tension, however, remained hidden from the public as the board failed to meet for nearly five months citing to the shortage of members.

In June, Hooker announced a deal to sell the former forces command or FORSCOM building to developer Easterly Government Properties. Easterly plans to renovate the structure for the FDA, which would relocate its existing Atlanta lab and offices and 350 workers from Midtown.

The proposed Easterly deal is by far the largest economic development initiative at Fort Mac since the Perry deal. But the Fort Mac LRA board has failed to address the pending sale in its past two board meetings.

The delays have raised concerns about some real estate observers about the future the Easterly deal, which is said to be worth about $17 million to the cash-strapped agency. An Easterly executive did not respond to a message seeking comment.

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