Brian Hooker has a lot on his plate these days. As leader of the Fort McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority (LRA), Hooker and his colleagues are entrusted with the revamp of 145 acres of the former Fort McPherson site and the economic development of its surrounding communities. Formerly the Director of Real Estate for the Beltline, Hooker joined the LRA as the Executive Director back in September 2014. Since, he has led the organization, which is governed by a board of directors nominated by the mayors of Atlanta and East Point and the Fulton County Commission and appointed by the Governor; the group of seven has quite an undertaking in front of them. For this week's Field Note Fridays installment, Hooker talks about the project and its potential impact on the region.
CURBED ATLANTA: What are some of the goals of the Fort McPherson Local Redevelopment Authority?
BRIAN HOOKER: We are responsible for ensuring quality redevelopment on 145 acres of the former Army post. Our goals begin with determining what type of development represents the market realistic, highest and best use of that land. Then we are charged with attracting and enabling that type of development.
We recently participated in a ULI Technical Assistance Panel focused on our 145 acres, and completed an ARC Livable Centers Initiative Study update for the larger Oakland City/Fort McPherson area. Both of those exercises involved a significant amount of community input and were informed by market data. Our key objective now is to implement these plans as quickly as possible — creating infrastructure and attracting redevelopment.
CURBED: Many were upset when it was announced that Tyler Perry would take control of a large portion of the old fort to create a movie studio. How have you found it to be working with his development team?
HOOKER: Tyler Perry Studios (TPS) is making a $100 million investment in Southwest Atlanta with the purchase of 330 acres of the former Army post. It's an unprecedented investment in a historically under-invested part of Atlanta that was hard pressed to attract capital from another industry. The TPS development team has been hard at work ensuring that this is a world-class facility. TPS is wasting no time implementing its vision.
CURBED: How will you combat the concern that the walled complex will just be replaced by another walled complex (the movie studio)?
HOOKER: It is what will be inside the studio that matters most to this community: unprecedented investment that can fuel additional investment and jobs. That studio certainly requires a boundary, as we'd expect. Importantly, Fort Mac LRA controls the land that runs along Lee Street and Campbellton Road, which are the locations where the wall has inhibited this community. As soon as we are able to, we will remove the wall. We heard loud and clear from our community members that this needs to happen. So, the concern is understandable. We have devoted significant resources to determining the best ways to remove the wall and provide the community with connectivity to this site.
CURBED: Okay, so the wall is coming down. But beyond that physical connection, how is the new development going to better tie in with the neighborhood and the transit available for residents?
HOOKER: One of the key items we discovered through the LCI process, particularly through community outreach, is that we have a much deeper need than originally thought for connective infrastructure. Because we conducted the LCI study update, we have a much better understanding of these needs and better access to apply for funding for these projects.
One of the solutions proposed in our LCI study is a linear trail along Lee Street, connecting both the Oakland City and Lakewood/Fort McPherson MARTA Stations into Fort Mac. The study also proposes extending Oakland Drive to connect Langford Parkway, which would provide badly needed north-south connectivity (currently only available via Lee Street). It also suggests steps to make major connections across Lee Street, under the railroad tracks and MARTA rail, at Dill Avenue and Astor Avenue, safer and more appealing for pedestrians, cyclists and others.
CURBED: Earlier this year the LRA held the latest of four major community meetings. How are the neighbors feeling about your latest proposals?
HOOKER: Overwhelmingly positive. The feedback we have received on the draft plan that was presented at that meeting tells us that we did a good job listening to the input we received from the community. There were no surprises, which is good. Members of the community may have called out a few areas where we could have focused a little more on public safety, or a little more on beautification, but for the most part Fort Mac LRA and our neighbors are very much on the same page.
CURBED: And what are some of the biggest takeaways you have gotten from the community?
HOOKER: This community is looking for job growth. They want economic development, but they don't want to be displaced by gentrification. They are very focused on public safety and connectivity. They also have an eye on health — including food access, recreation options and healthcare.
CURBED: What are the major initiatives created by the LCI study and how will the LRA work to implement them?
HOOKER: We are focusing on three key nodes within the study area, which stretches from the Atlanta Beltline to the southern end of the Fort McPherson boundary.
· The first node is the Atlanta Beltline Westside trail, where the study encourages office and maker space development, food and retail options and housing infill.
· The next node is the Fort McPherson area, where there should be community spaces, a "main street" of retail, and office/medical office.
· The final node surrounds the Oakland City MARTA Station, where a village-style community retail core is envisioned, along with infill housing.
All of the grand ideas I just listed are longterm undertakings. In the immediate future, we'll be focused on kicking off a marketing initiative for the opportunities on Fort Mac, standing up a nonprofit to handle the community needs and services as well as green space around the Oakland City Station, and championing the proposed transportation projects with the city.
CURBED: What are some of the best aspects of the existing site and how will you ensure preservation of historic buildings?
HOOKER: One of the site's biggest assets is its history: the actual historical buildings and the history that Fort McPherson shares with so many Atlantans. Our historic buildings are protected the same way that others on public or privately owned land are protected. Our key historic properties are mostly clustered in the northeast corner of our site, which has been dubbed the "Historic Village." These buildings are intended for adaptive reuse in order to preserve the structures — check them out here. We also have newer buildings on the site that are attractive for other reasons. For example, the Forces Command building is large, at around 370,000 square feet, and was built with superior tech infrastructure to facilitate fast, secure communications.
CURBED: What can we expect to see next for Fort McPherson?
HOOKER: Most immediately, we are beginning to engage the development community to ensure they know we are open for business. There is plenty of opportunity and demand for economic development in and around Fort Mac, and we look forward to sharing the details of what it has to offer. We are working to make it easy for Atlanta's development community to take advantage of those opportunities.