Fort Mac plan sees big potential for growth

A draft master plan for the area around Fort McPherson shows potential for denser development on public land at the former Army post and around two nearby MARTA stations and a future leg of the Beltline.

The draft shows there is current demand in the 1,300-acre area to support a grocery store and other neighborhood retail, and more will be stimulated by the future Tyler Perry Studios campus and private investment expected along the future Beltline segment.

It also outlines needed infrastructure upgrades including street extensions, streetscape work, new bike lanes and sidewalks, along with other improvements to make the area safer for pedestrians.

The McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority, recently re-branded as Fort Mac LRA, unveiled the latest draft at a meeting this week at Atlanta Technical College. The draft, which will receive further tweaks before going before the authority’s board late next month, is being developed under the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Livable Centers Initiative (LCI).

It provides the most detailed view yet of plans for redeveloping Fort Mac, one of two south metro Atlanta Army posts closed in recent years. The other is Fort Gillem in Forest Park.

The master plan will guide development on the 145 acres the Fort Mac LRA owns, as well as in areas around a planned southern leg of the Beltline and the Oakland City and Lakewood/Fort McPherson MARTA stations.

The biggest chunk of the closed post — 330 acres’ worth — was bought last June by filmmaker Tyler Perry, who plans a movie studio.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed brokered the Perry deal, but the plan has drawn criticism from some who fear it will produce a walled-off compound that will not stimulate much activity for the surrounding area.

Residents in past meetings have outlined job creation, education, retail, public safety, affordable housing, senior housing and preserving historic buildings as top priorities.

Big dollars coming

The future Beltline segment and the first phase of Perry’s film campus represent about $150 million in investment coming to the area in the next few years, and those dollars will attract other real estate speculators and investors, Fort Mac LRA Executive Director Brian Hooker said. That could stimulate further demand in an area that has lower incomes than many retailers target.

“We see property values around us going up as investors buy property betting on what’s to come,” Hooker said.

The area near the future Beltline segment is likely to be among the earliest to see development, according to the draft master plan. It has existing commercial and industrial space that could be used for creative firms and light manufacturers and become a hub for denser residential development, restaurants and retail, planners said.

Small firms doing business near other segments of the Beltline are seeing rent spikes, and refurbished space on the city’s Southside could be attractive to them, they added.

The Oakland City MARTA station, which MARTA officials hope to bring to market for a transit-oriented development, also could support denser residential development. Meanwhile, the southern end of the 145-acre Fort Mac LRA property is likely to become a main street with neighborhood retail, parks, medical offices, potentially a charter school and apartments.

Office space to pitch

The Veterans Administration already has medical facilities on the post and authority leaders have previously said office space on the Fort Mac LRA property could be pitched to film companies or other media firms.

While no master plan can compel private business investment, the existence of a plan can make the property more attractive and help the agency and private partners get loans and incentives, Hooker has said. The area’s tax allocation district also could be tapped to help finance needed infrastructure improvements.

Several people who attended last week’s meeting said they liked the concepts.

East Point resident Gloria Jenkins said she wants to see the area become a destination that draws people from outside the community, but she added it also needs affordable senior housing to help retirees remain in area.

Rodney Mullis, a West End resident and CEO of West Atlanta Progress, said the Fort McPherson area also needs support for existing small businesses.

“If we want to start businesses, access to capital is a big issue,” he said.

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