Create an enduring project

Recent news of one of the Fort McPherson master developers dropping out of the project raises a question: Why is that redevelopment proceeding so slowly?

New York’s approach to redevelopment may be instructive, as construction gets underway for the joint Cornell-Technion university campus on Roosevelt Island.

Since Fort McPherson was first included in a 2005 Pentagon base closure plan, the redevelopment strategy has progressed little beyond saying it will become a mixed-use property with residential areas, private businesses and some government buildings and programs. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced plans to spend about $40 million to create a health care campus on part of the property.

Leading with real estate development falls far short of offering real hope of creating an enduring project. Asking taxpayers to invest — with few details about how our money will be spent — in a project that has yet to attract capital from the private sector is simply irresponsible.

It isn’t too late to invite Emory, Georgia Tech, Georgia State, the University of Georgia, the Atlanta University Center schools, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others to help formulate a vision of how to develop the more-than 480 acre site to generate the greatest long-term gain for Atlanta and Georgia. Consider how effective New York has been with its higher education — rather than real estate development — strategy for redevelopment.

Three years ago, New York City announced a new, high-tech graduate school developed by Cornell University in partnership with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. The city committed to providing land and up to $100 million in infrastructure improvements. Cornell competed with other universities for the opportunity to create this campus.

The $2 billion plan includes a $150 million venture capital fund for start-up companies that grow out of the new campus and agree to remain in New York for three years. It also includes math and science education support for 10,000 city children. Just building the campus will create 20,000 construction jobs. It is anticipated to spin off 600 new businesses over the next generation, creating 30,000 more jobs and as much as $1.4 billion in tax revenue. The vision has already attracted commitments of more than $750 million from private donors.

In one swoop, Gotham moved to the center of the high-tech universe, competing with the likes of Silicon Valley, the Research Triangle, Boston and Austin. The employment spurred by this vision will include some of the best-paying jobs in the country. New York’s economy will benefit for generations.

Leading with real estate development tends to create empty buildings. We have enough of those in Atlanta to last a generation, and the state owns more than its fair share of them. What we need is inspired leadership. We shouldn’t invest our tax dollars in the meantime.

Steve Berman is a partner at Norcross-based OA Development, a commercial real estate brokerage firm.