A controversial deal approved by the Atlanta City Council in November that moved the massive Gulch redevelopment project closer to fruition is promising to impact far more than downtown and neighboring communities.
The way the agreement is structured extends the Atlanta Public Schools system into the Campbellton Road Tax Allocation District, which, according to developers of Fort McPherson, paves the way for the former military base’s overhaul to secure financing.
Fort McPherson, now called “Fort Mac” by developers, an almost 500-acre swath between the Oakland City and Lakewood/Fort McPherson MARTA stations lining Campbellton Road, is poised for rebirth on a scale that Southwest Atlanta neighborhoods haven’t seen.
The Fort Mac Local Redevelopment Authority, a government agency formed by the State of Georgia to oversee the revamp of 145 acres of Fort McPherson—the land that film mogul Tyler Perry doesn’t own—is now able to claim funding from the TAD. That will allow developers to woo public capital for the project, officials say.
“We applaud Councilmember Joyce Sheperd for her relentless advocacy during the Gulch deal discussions to make this happen,” Fort Mac LRA executive director Brian Hooker told Curbed Atlanta.
Although the project is still in its planning phase—it just passed a Development of Regional Impact review—Hooker said it could cost upwards of $600 million and bring restaurants, retail, and more than 2,000 housing units.
Hooker noted that, of those 2,000-plus residential units planned for the Fort Mac project, 20 percent would be earmarked for tax credit-driven affordable housing units.
“Affordable housing is our No. 1 priority,” said Hooker.
Hooker’s team is also aiming to make 40 percent of the units workforce housing priced at between 60 and 120 percent of the area median income—regular people, he said.
Today, Fort McPherson can seem restrictive, considering the property is walled off with unsightly fencing.
“Our mission is to redevelop this property so that it uplifts the surrounding community, and in order to do that we need to get rid of the wall,” Hooker said. “The wall was put in place by the Army ... and it conveys a very negative message.”
Fort Mac LRA has contracted local artist Fabian Williams—known for work like the Hosea Williams mural at Studioplex—to decorate the site’s temporary fencing with vibrant visual creations. (Tyler Perry’s property will remain behind walls.)
Once completed, the property (sans walls) would be publicly accessible via nearly a dozen entrances, many along Campbellton Road.
The first changes that Hooker said would be visible to passersby would entail the activation of existing buildings bordering the Campbellton Road side of Fort Mac.
The thinking goes that injecting the site with activity, such as arts initiatives, could help developers persuade philanthropic investors to get involved.
“What people will likely see first is a couple of curated synergistic uses in the northeastern part of the property,” Hooker said.
Another major initiative in the works at the site is the new eCommunity high-speed fiber optic network, which, one day, could afford occupants the opportunity to choose from a handful of internet service providers, as well as TV and phone service operators.
And then there’s the “Fort Mac Mile,” a planned stretch of multi-use path for cyclists and pedestrians strung along the easternmost side of the project.
Officials still need to procure a few parcels in order to tackle this multi-modal project, including some land owned by the Chuch of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, at the northeastern border of Fort Mac.
Another aspect that could shape Fort Mac’s mini-city functionality: The development will include a school—“modeled off the University of Virginia campus,” Hooker said—with its own central green space. “We seem to be headed toward a charter school,” over a traditional public school approach, he noted.
This is all just the second phase of the Fort McPherson revival, which started with Perry’s purchase of some 330 acres of the old base.
Perry plans to soon build the 12th and final soundstage—with the only water tank for filming in the Southeast—on his land. That property includes meandering green space that used to be a golf course, a miniature subdivision, trailer park, and 1960s-era diner built solely for movie shoots, among other infrastructure.
Just outside the massive property, on Campbellton Road, a new leg of the Atlanta Streetcar—courtesy of More MARTA investments—could make the area more inviting to tourists and visitors from other neighborhoods.
There’s also the matter of job creation, something locals have been wondering about since Perry moved in.
To address this need, Fort Mac LRA is creating the Jobs and Career Center—JACC, for short—which will help direct locals toward blue collar work.
The JACC would be run by the Technical College System of Georgia, Hooker said.
Plenty of buildings will remain on site, as they’re protected by the historic registry. (The Veterans Affairs offices and clinic will remain on site, too.)
Fort McPherson’s former Catholic chapel, for instance, has been converted into an art gallery, the Stained Gallery—aptly named for its stunning stained glass windows.
The Stained Gallery has been hosting creative events lately, and it’s scheduled to host an opera show in early February.
As for the mammoth redevelopment’s launch, Hooker said to keep an eye out for tangible changes in the near future. Master development partner Macauley is currently working on securing contractors.
“Aggressively [speaking], the first significant set of new development will come online mid-2020,” said Hooker. “We’d have the Jobs and Career Center built by then.”
He added: “We are in active discussions with our master development partner to break down phasing. I would say mid-2021, this will be a very different place.”