(Creative Loafing February 3, 2016)
By Thomas Wheatley
The latest plan to wake up the 1,300 acres of neighborhoods that spoke off from Fort McPherson is a compromise of sorts: a compromise between a neighborhood’s dreams of what could sprout here, and what market analysts believe can thrive. Or, as one consultant put it at a packed community meeting last week at Atlanta Technical College, the plan lives in the practical space between what “your kids … want for Christmas,” and when you consider, “What can we afford?”
The compromise under the tree is a Livable Cities Initiative Study for the Oakland City/Lakewood Area, the latest in a litany of studies on the area once envisioned to become a bioscience and jobs hub, and itself the update of a 2004 plan. But it is the first to come at a key moment when it could truly be implemented, said Brian Hooker, the executive director of the Fort McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority, the state-created entity overseeing the former base’s next phase.
“This time is different,” Hooker said. “The timing is now.”
As the fog of the recession lifts, a $45 million stretch of the Atlanta Beltline is being built north of the site. More than $100 million more is pouring into a film studio helmed by Tyler Perry, whose controversial sale was approved last year and will see 330 acres of the former fort site transformed into a Hollywood backlot.
With that kind of cash, Hooker said, developers are interested — which means that this study, unlike others, could produce construction soon. If finalized by FMLRA and the Atlanta City Council, this could be the roadmap between what is approved to be built here.
The other difference this time around: neighborhood input. Unlike other plans that struck residents as out-of-touch impositions, this draft was developed through four community meetings, 20 interviews with stakeholders, 600 survey responses, and a string of meetings with community groups. “The whole goal is that over the last several years we have listened continuously,” said Joyce Shepherd, an Atlanta City Councilmember who reps the area and also sits on the authority’s board. “And what you will see tonight is a result of that listening.”
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Photo by Eric Cash