(Atlanta Journal Constitution 07.28.15)
By J. Scott Trubey
Filmmaker Tyler Perry’s plans for a sprawling movie studio at Fort McPherson may include an amphitheater and a museum, according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
A map provided to the Army shows the amphitheater and museum, but gives little other information. Perry, who acquired most of the closed Army post in June, has said the studio will feature tours but has been otherwise silent on any public aspects of the project.
Other documents estimate Perry’s studio will generate about 5,000 jobs, about in the middle of prior estimates by the city of Atlanta. But many of the Perry studio jobs will be considered contract work, and the studio is not under commitments to deliver a specific number of full-time jobs.
How Perry’s project will connect to the community concerns many residents near the closed Army post, who fear the south Atlanta facility will be replaced by a smaller walled-off studio compound. Much of the complex will likely remain off-limits to the public to protect productions.
The AJC obtained documents through a Georgia Open Records Act request. The site map dates from October 2014 and was included in documents submitted to the Army in March by the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority.
The map shows zones of the property and also lists barracks as temporary talent housing, space for corporate offices, commercial stages and green space. Perry also will control parade grounds that could be used as a shooting location.
Attempts to contact Perry to discuss the project were not successful.
MILRA Executive Director Brian Hooker said Perry’s team is finalizing its plans and he expects the filmmaker to seek building permits soon. Construction fencing and signs marking Perry’s future studio home have been erected in recent weeks.
“He is making visible progress,” Hooker said. He added he cannot discuss specifics, including the amphitheater or museum, due to confidentiality agreements. The site map shows spaces for a “theater museum” and “future amphitheater” but does not indicate the size of either.
Perry and MILRA closed on a $30 million deal in late June. The actor, writer, producer and director, will ultimately control 330 of the fort’s 488 acres. MILRA will keep about 145 acres for future redevelopment. The Veterans Administration also controls property on site.
In addition to Perry’s vision, the documents also delve into economic challenges of surrounding neighborhoods. The double-whammy of the Great Recession and the post’s closure in 2011 resulted in loss of 7,814 direct and indirect jobs in the area.
The documents also highlight numerous physical challenges including the need for more than $50 million in infrastructure upgrades to the MILRA property — roads and replacing outmoded water lines and other utilities — and about $34 million in estimated Tax Allocation District funds that might be available to help pay for the work. (Perry is responsible for infrastructure improvements on his property.)
The authority’s Economic Development Conveyance application asking the Army to approve the sale projected about 10,000 jobs on the overall campus over 10 years, including both Perry’s studio and hypothetical surrounding development. Development work also could create thousands of temporary construction jobs, MILRA estimated.
The city of Atlanta has previously released a report outlining projections of 3,900 to 8,300 jobs at the Perry studio. The studio job estimates come from Perry’s organization and assume 10 to 20 film and television productions will be shooting at the studio at once.
Those productions will primarily involve crews of 200 to 300 people, including actors, who are attached to the projects that might shoot for several months, the AJC previously reported. Tyler Perry Studios also has hundreds of permanent executives and other workers who will relocate from Perry’s campus near Greenbriar Mall.
The economic collapse has made unfeasible a 2010 plan to convert the fort into biosciences park, MILRA has said.
A new master planning process under the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Livable Cities Initiative is expected to begin next month. It will examine development alternatives for the MILRA land that Perry didn’t buy, and explore not only the post, but areas including the Oakland City MARTA station just north of it, where the transit agency is exploring development of its parking lots, and the western extension of the Atlanta Beltline.
The Beltline trail construction and Perry’s project are expected to bring more than $140 million in investment to the immediate area that could spur additional growth.
An Urban Land Institute panel last month suggested a mix of retail to serve the studio and community, restaurants, office space and apartments on MILRA’s land.
MILRA’s property stretches largely along Campbellton Road and Lee Street in an inverted U-shape. It includes the main office cluster and the historic McPherson village. Research facilities could be a use for some of the fort’s office buildings, but Hooker said MILRA will market the office buildings broadly.
MILRA wants to woo retailers to serve the studio complex and local neighborhoods. The Pinewood Atlanta Studios campus in Fayette County has a dedicated Home Depot facility, and Perry’s studio could require a similar facility, MILRA officials have said.
Offices for federal agencies, government contractors and media companies were among the ideas outlined last month by development experts with the Urban Land Institute.
MILRA also must decide how it might grow its staff to bring in new experts to assist in development, Hooker said.
“It’s of critical importance to get underway now,” Hooker said, so that retail and other amenities on the MILRA property can be ready to serve the community and studio.
Though other groups have approached the authority about buy all or part of the site, MILRA has said those plans did not have the financial wherewithal of the Perry proposal.
The documents reveal that Perry once wanted more Fort McPherson land, and he also wanted potentially lucrative property tax breaks over 20 years, a request the civilian authority overseeing the post’s redevelopment declined.
Perry is eligible for job creation tax credits and New Markets Tax Credits that encourage private investment in impoverished areas, according to the documents.