October 2, 2015 – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, By J. Scott Trubey
Bring jobs. Woo retailers, restaurants and a grocery store. Start police bicycle patrols. Fix sidewalks, clean up blighted homes and preserve historic buildings.
Those were just some of the suggestions of residents near Fort McPherson at the opening meeting of a months-long community study program. The Livable Centers Initiative study will help chart the future of a slice of Atlanta that has been starved for investment and redevelopment for decades, but could be on the cusp of renewal.
About 70 residents crowded into the Rev. James Orange Park Recreation Center for the public kickoff of a program that will study some 1,300 acres around the old Army post on the edge of East Point and Atlanta’s Oakland City neighborhood just to the north. The communities were hit hard by the closure of Fort McPherson and the economic crisis.
Two big projects are already slated: filmmaker Tyler Perry’s new movie studio, which will cover most of the fort, as well as the Westside Beltline trail.
“Something has already happened. Money is already here,” said Joyce Shepard, an Atlanta city council member who is also on the board of an authority set up to redevelop Fort McPherson.
The big question now is whether those projects, which the city officials say will bring about $150 million in new investment, will lead to the broader renewal that so many in the area want.
In June, Perry acquired most of the closed Army post for $30 million. His main plan is for a film studio, though documents submitted to the authority also showed a potential amphitheater and museum on the property.
The redevelopment agency still has about 144 acres of land Perry isn’t buying.
An Urban Land Institute panel recently recommended options, including an expanded Veterans Administration medical center, offices for federal agencies, government contractors and media companies as well as retail, restaurants and apartments.
Residents say it will take better infrastructure to make those hopes a reality.
“Why is everybody else’s stuff getting done and not southwest Atlanta?” Darnetta Nichols said at Thursday night’s meeting. “The serious development, we’ve been waiting a long time.”
The area, she said, is ripe for redevelopment given its proximity to downtown and the airport. The Camp Creek Marketplace development several miles to the southwest is the best local option for shopping and dining, Nichols said. The area is choked with cars and waits are long, she said.
The neighborhoods around the ex-Army post, with new investment coming in, can support new retailers and restaurants, she said.
Brian Hooker, executive director of the redevelopment authority, said he heard both frustration and hope that new opportunities await.
One previous master plan for a life sciences campus at the fort was not realistic, he said. But Hooker said the latest planning process will include an economic study, more input from residents and developers, and will benefit from knowledge that the Perry project and Beltline are moving forward.
The authority plans a festival Oct. 24 to gain further community input.
The information above is for general awareness only and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Economic Adjustment or the Department of Defense as a whole.