Tyler Perry, Mayor Bottoms criticize Fort Mac board for FDA deal

In a Tuesday interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, movie mogul Tyler Perry slammed the authority overseeing redevelopment of Fort McPherson for failing to convert the 145 acres outside the gates of his movie studio into a thriving development for nearby residents.

“What I’ve been waiting for the city and MILRA to deliver on was the promises they made to me when I bought the property,” Perry said of the agency known as MILRA or Fort Mac LRA. “I’ve been here four years and in the four years I’ve been here they’ve done nothing but waste a lot of money over there and not being able to get anything done.”

Perry's ire was raised by the decision Monday by the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority board to approve a $17 million sale of the former Forces Command office building for a future U.S. Food and Drug Administration lab. Easterly Government Properties has been under contract to buy the building since December.

The company was awarded a long-term lease with the government, and the FDA is expected to relocate its Midtown lab and 350 highly paid workers to Fort Mac in southwest Atlanta when the renovated space is completed in 2020 or 2021.

The FDA project is the largest economic development deal at Fort McPherson since Perry built his studio complex on 330 acres of former Army land purchased in 2015. The studio has been operating for some time but will have its formal grand opening in October.

But Perry called the FDA deal “shortsighted,” and a desperate move by an agency that’s strapped for cash and this year received financial lifelines from the city to keep its doors open.

Perry said the FORSCOM building “is in the heart of any development corridor,” and selling it could ruin the authority’s chances to craft a cohesive project benefiting nearby residents on the base’s remaining 145 acres.

“I don’t know any developer who would want to come in and work around that deal,” he said.

In 2017, the authority signed a deal with master developer Stephen Macauley to build a mix of affordable and market-rate housing, shops and restaurants. But that partnership has soured, and the authority has been racked by upheaval in its board and executive leadership.

On Monday, the Fort Mac LRA board voted to give its interim leader the power to negotiate a buyout with Macauley, potentially sending the development plans back to square one.

In a statement, the authority dismissed Perry’s concerns about the FDA deal detracting from Fort Mac.

“The LRA Board believes the FDA presence at Fort Mac representing 350-400 jobs and more than $100 million in capital investment is a prudent decision and doesn’t impact the ability of the LRA to attract qualified developers and investors interested in fulfilling the development vision,” spokesman Mark Hayes said. “We look forward to working with Tyler Perry Studios in the future and having a fruitful relationship in the future as neighbors.”

Universal Studios model for Perry

Perry, creator of such hits as the “Madea” franchise, said he is planning to build shops, restaurants, a center to help victims of human trafficking and other amenities to serve his workers and the community because he said he doubts the authority will be able to succeed in its redevelopment mission.

Perry said if the authority won’t do “what they said they’d do outside the fence, I’ll do what they were supposed to on the inside.”

Perry said his plans for his own mixed-use development will be like Universal Studios in California. It will also include a previously announced museum, public tours and a 3,500-seat theater or amphitheater.

“Within the next 36 months the building that I want to do here will be done,” Perry said. With the exception of the FDA lab, Perry said, “I can assure you within that 36 months’ time nothing will have been done with MILRA and those 145 acres.”

The actor, writer and director previously expressed interest in buying the Forces Command or FORSCOM building. Texts obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in July also showed Perry had renewed interest in buying all or part of Fort Mac.

The texts showed Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms appeared supportive of Perry's prior interest in Fort Mac property and in Perry's planned human trafficking victims' center.

But on Tuesday, Perry said he had “no interest” in buying more of the former post or in doing any further business with the authority. He said needless delays by the authority cost him substantially in the year it took to negotiate his $30 million land purchase in 2015.

Bottoms also a critic of deal

On Monday, Bottoms addressed the Fort Mac LRA board in executive session but declined to answer questions about her remarks to the board.

Bottoms’ chief of staff, Carmen Chubb, who is a member of the authority board, was the lone vote against the FDA deal with Easterly.

In a statement, Bottoms on Tuesday echoed Perry’s sentiments lashing the authority’s board, saying it “squandered an opportunity to work in the best interest of the community and entire city by failing to properly evaluate new opportunities to comprehensively redevelop Fort Mac.”

“This short-sighted transaction for the sake of expediency does not benefit the people of Atlanta,” Bottoms said.

Perry also expressed concerns about the FDA’s future lab operations. The Atlanta facility includes the Southeast Tobacco Testing Laboratory and the Southeast Food and Feed Laboratory, whose mission includes doing nutritional analysis for food labeling.

An FDA spokesman said the new lab will be operated safely.

“The FDA is committed to ensuring that the agency’s laboratories are operated in a safe and secure manner to protect employees, the surrounding communities, and the environment,” spokesman Michael Felberbaum said.

Darrell Crate, Easterly chairman, said the community has been supportive of the FDA project. He also said there’s no cause for concern about the FDA’s lab operations.

“I guess some people are scared of romaine lettuce,” he said. “This is bringing hundreds of science-based jobs to southwest Atlanta and connects neighborhoods that have been forgotten into the Atlanta university system.”

Our reporting

The AJC previously reported on dysfunction with the Fort Mac LRA board, including changes in leadership and a souring of its relationship with master developer Stephen Macauley. The agency’s board 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. On Monday, the LRA board approved a sale for the future FDA lab, which spurred a strong response from Perry.