Texts show Tyler Perry interested in buying more of Fort McPherson

Actor and producer Tyler Perry speaking in Atlanta in February 2017. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Actor and producer Tyler Perry speaking in Atlanta in February 2017. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Tyler Perry, who in 2015 bought most of Fort McPherson — where he has since built a sprawling film studio — expressed interest in acquiring part or all the remaining former Army post, text messages obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show.

The messages from March and April show Perry’s representatives were in behind-the-scenes discussions with the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority, or Fort Mac LRA, at the same time relations between the agency and its master developer were souring.

Some City Hall observers have speculated Perry and partners could replace Stephen Macauley as master developer of about 145 acres the LRA controls. The AJC reported last week on emails and other documents that showed the agency and Macauley were at odds, with each side claiming the other was in default of their 2-year-old development agreement.

The texts between Fort Mac LRA Executive Director Brian Hooker and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms are the first glimpse that Perry expressed interest in further development at Fort Mac beyond the 330-acre filming campus he controls, including potentially establishing a center to help human trafficking victims. Messages left for representatives of Perry and Bottoms’ office were not immediately returned.

It is unclear whether talks with Perry have continued. Perry previously withdrew from negotiations with the LRA after expressing interest in other Fort Mac properties.

» RELATED: Questions plague Fort McPherson development

» ALSO: Tyler Perry reveals Atlanta studio was once Confederate army base

Brendan McCarthy, an attorney for Macauley, said the developer was unaware of the latest Perry negotiations.

“These text messages are very disturbing and very disappointing to us,” McCarthy said. “We did not know what was going on here, especially as to a (potential) deal being struck in April. We wasted three months of time.”

The LRA would potentially owe Macauley several million dollars to buy out the development agreement.

‘That would be awesome!’

The emergence of Perry as a possible suitor for the remainder of Fort McPherson is significant because a deal with Macauley remains in limbo.

“Madam Mayor, I briefed (Bottoms’ chief of staff) Carmen (Chubb) today on Fort Mac. We discussed the possibility that Tyler could exercise his (right of first offer) with a developer partner,” Hooker wrote Bottoms on March 18.

Perry’s 2015 deal grants rights to make an offer for any land the redevelopment agency might wish to sell. Perry does not have veto power over the LRA.

“Negotiations with Macauley are on hold,” Hooker said.

About a month later, on April 16, Hooker recounted to Bottoms a conversation with Perry’s lead adviser on real estate matters, Scott Samples.

“Madam Mayor, I just met with Scott Samples and he believes the timing is right and Tyler will be interested in exercising his (right of first offer),” Hooker said. “I will connect Scott with Alvin.”

“Alvin” is Alvin Kendall, a mentor to Bottoms and a key adviser whom the mayor’s administration has hired for outside legal work.

The entrance to Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

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Hooker later relayed another message signaling interest by the Perry team.

“Here’s the text (Samples) sent me: ‘Yup .. it’s on .. but I have to package it all up,’” Hooker told Bottoms on April 18.

A few days later, Hooker told the mayor of Perry’s interest in building a center to help victims of human trafficking.

“Tyler wants to build a center for trafficking victims as part of the development on our side,” Hooker texted. “Scott is meeting with their planners on Thursday and could be ready to take next steps next week. Thanks for your support Madam Mayor.”

Bottoms replied: “That would be awesome!”

No formal offer

Fort McPherson closed in 2011 and the LRA took control of the 488-acre site from the Army in 2015. That same year, Perry acquired about 330 acres of the former Army post for $30 million.

The sale was largely orchestrated by then-Mayor Kasim Reed after plans for a life sciences campus and mixed-use development were scrapped.

Perry initially wanted to buy all of Fort Mac and once envisioned a retail complex outside his studio, but the redevelopment authority declined to sell the entire post. Since 2015, Perry has expressed interest in acquiring additional Fort Mac property, including the former forces command or FORSCOM building, but in each case later withdrew from negotiations.

In June, the LRA and developer Easterly Government Properties announced a deal for Easterly to buy the FORSCOM building, renovate it and lease it to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which would relocate its Atlanta offices and lab and about 350 highly paid personnel from Midtown.

The LRA board has yet to vote on the transaction.

Fort Mac LRA selected Macauley in May 2017 to lead revitalization of its acreage into a mixed-use community of offices, restaurants, retail, hotels and about 2,400 residences, with most homes reserved for rents below market rates. For two years, Macauley and his team crafted a master plan and won approval of regional and city planners for the ambitious project.

A rendering of Macauley Investments’ planned $700 million-plus master planned development for about 145 acres of the former Fort McPherson. SPECIAL to the AJC from Macauley Investments.

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But behind the scenes, relations between the LRA and Macauley frayed in recent months as the two sides pursued a more detailed development agreement.

Last week, the AJC reported on documents showing Hooker questioned Macauley’s financial resources and the collapse of Macauley’s business empire during the recession. Hooker also said that the developer wanted changes to the deal that the agency wouldn’t accept, emails reviewed by the AJC show.

Macauley, meanwhile, alleged that all the key terms of the deal were agreed to at a Feb. 21 board meeting and that the redevelopment agency strung Macauley’s team along since then without explanation, according to emails and other records obtained by the AJC. Macauley has said the agency made unreasonable demands of the development team.

Added to the mix were alleged comments carrying racial overtones. In an April email, Macauley alleged he was told by Hooker that Kendall had said Macauley, who is white, was being “coddled” because of his race and that a black developer would have been pushed out. Hooker has said those comments were misconstrued.

The talks with Perry occurred, meanwhile, during a nearly five-month period in which the authority board did not have enough voting members and failed to meet.

Fort Mac LRA board chairman Cassius Butts (left) introduces new member Carmen Chubb during the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority Board Meeting at Fort Mac LRA on Thursday, July 11, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

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Last Thursday, when the LRA board met for the first time since February, Macauley urged the board to stick with him.

“Time is of the essence. We’ve lost four months,” he said. “We need your help. We need a master project area agreement soon.”

Hooker was not present for the board meeting and his future with the agency appears in doubt.

Cassius Butts, chairman of the LRA board, told reporters that other developers have expressed interest in the site. But Butts said the board is committed to working through the Macauley proposals.

On Tuesday, Butts said the board knew of Perry’s past interest, but he had not seen the text exchanges between Hooker and Bottoms.

“We don’t have anything from the staff officially stating this is a proposal from Mr. Perry,” Butts said.