The Legacy of Fort McPherson in 100 Years

LRAShortly after the start of my 2002 term as mayor, an influential Council member and I wrangled behind closed doors over an issue and we were unable to repair our relationship until years after I left office. The point of contention was whether the city should strongly encourage, almost insist, that a major retail development include a significant number of mixed income apartments and condominiums. Her argument was she didn’t want to lose the investment and the developer’s interest by insisting on the inclusion of mixed income housing.

In losing, I learned an important lesson as a leader. There are times when having the right answer means that public policy married with best practice may be illusive especially when a community has suffered years of disinvestment and disappointment.

Sometimes leaders and those they represent will accept less than the best answer because any answer seems better than the risk of no development at all. Best practice doesn’t always prevail. Fortunately, Atlanta has best practice economic and community development models for reference. Two key points are worth noting.

The transformation of City Hall East into Ponce City Market would not be possible without the public investments in the Old Fourth Ward Park, which in turn is accelerating the transformation of the Old Fourth Ward. The public investment in the Beltline is what is attracting the private investment in the adjacent commercial and residential real estate in neighborhoods around the 22-mile Beltline corridor. Public investments in infrastructure supporting Atlantic Station has generated investments and growth in West Midtown. Key to these success stories is that public investment is “unlocking the value” of properties that would otherwise not attract that type of investment.

Opportunities for public investments that can have transformative impacts on urban neighborhoods are rare. They should not be wasted. We now have general consensus on how these investments – when the opportunities arise – should be shaped and structured. The objective should be to make strategic public investments in infrastructure that will increase the quality of life in the surrounding neighborhoods and “unlock” the value of developable property in those neighborhoods. By attracting private investment in residential and commercial properties, those neighborhoods can put on a new trajectory.

The original plan for Fort McPherson followed this approach. The master plan as approved by the Board included a public investment in a 150 acre greenspace that would rival Piedmont Park in its size and amenities. The Board anticipated that this investment – combined with transportation and streetscapes – would attract private investment in residential and commercial properties yielding 4,600 units of mixed income housing (20% of it affordable and over 300 units of transition housing for homeless), and 4 million square feet of commercial property that could support nearly 5,000 new jobs.

At the insistence of then Governor Perdue, who some thought wanted to make the mixed use, mixed income, comprehensive revitalization of Fort McPherson part of his legacy, the implementation Authority was established by the Georgia legislature. Neither Governor Perdue nor the legislature ever adopted the policy or dedicated incentives to the development as expected then.  The Great Recession hit Atlanta housing industry hard, I left office in 2010 and Governor Perdue left the following year. ]

If the US Army wants to sell the base so be it, but this has been public land paid for and developed with public dollars for years. The base has been a stabilizing factor for this section of the city for decades and its’ purchase and redevelopment offers a rare opportunity for the surrounding neighborhoods to gain the amenities they have been without for decades.  It also allows the city to leverage the dollars spent on the purchase with the highest and best long term use of the 400 plus acres.

As a product of two mayoral terms before assuming office myself, changing course is not unfamiliar territory even when established best practice is documented. As one who embraced the concept of the Atlanta Beltline, the Atlanta Streetcar, the National Center of Civil and Human Rights, the name change of the airport, who championed the city and community’s $6 billion in water and airport infrastructure and who launched major initiatives to eliminate homelessness and human trafficking, I understand the power of a great new idea that shapes new policy and creates new economic development opportunities. I also understand the importance of balancing public interest with private interest and making sure the public benefit wins every time. As a student of Mayors Jackson and Young I learned underserved communities deserve the best investment of resources and talent and full access to the decision making process.

As a member of the Regional Commission on Homelessness I am equally concerned about the city’s and the Authority’s commitment to the spirit and letter of the Authority plan for addressing homelessness. This plan was negotiated in good faith, reviewed by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and vetted in numerous public meetings by the Atlanta City Council. Atlanta remains a city with many people who have so little income they qualify as living in poverty. Thousands are homeless. Some 39% of Atlanta’s children live in families whose income qualifies them as living below the poverty line. Homeless children and their families need our focused attention and renewed commitment to use every available, reasonable and sensible resource to offer them opportunities to improve their economic condition.

Imagine a homeless family that relocates to the new Fort McPherson community who is able to reunite as parents and children in a transformed and planned community with other families of diverse backgrounds within a few Marta stops of the tens of thousands of jobs at Hartsfield Jackson airport and downtown. This community would be few blocks from the colleges and universities of the Atlanta University Center, a few miles from Georgia Tech and Georgia State University, two Marta stations connecting them with jobs, commerce, Emory Midtown Hospital Healthcare, Grady Hospital AND a new private investment from one of America’s most innovative entertainment and businessmen. The new community should be nothing less than inclusive of the aspirations and dreams of the current residents and businesses, those who are most in need and those who have the power and resources to invest tens of millions of dollars into new ventures.

This property represents the most important economic development asset for south Atlanta that the city fathers and mothers will have for a hundred years. Limiting the development options to one or the other seems short sighted knowing what Atlanta has learned about the transformative power of public infrastructure investments


  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    As I understand, the City has been trying to sell this property for 7 years to no avail. The City has no reasonable expectation of a more lucrative sale in the near future, owes $30 million to the Army soon, and doesn’t have a spare $30 million. The City can stiff the APS about the Beltline but not the Army.
    Were you Mayor now, what would you do to deal with this immediate problem?

  2. As the Vice Chairman of the Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless of Metropolitan Atlanta I spent the day in court dealing with the homeless shelter at Peachtree and Pine. Former Mayor Franklin and her Adminstration engaged in “racketeering” in an assault on the homeless. She named former City Councilwoman Debbie Starnes as her Homeless Czar to conspire with the business community and Emory Hospital to “foreclose on the building using fraudulent schemes to achieve that end. “Laundering money”, using the United Way of Atlanta as the conduit to pay Ms. Starnes with business community money as she served as the City’s Homeless Czar!

    Ms. Starnes, at the direction of Mayor Franklin, at the direction of A.J. Robinson, Central Atlanta Progress, disqualified the Task Force from receiving City funds which automatically disqualified us from receiving State and Federal support. Since we could not receive public support, for which we were entitled, because we continued to provide services to the homeless we were unable to pay our bills because of the conspiracy.

    Mayor Franklin I’m sure you are aware that the Regional Commission on Homelessness has been dissolved because the leader’s of the several jurisdictions cannot get along and the fallout for the homeless is devastating!

    I trust you will lend your support for including the homeless at the Fort Mc Phearson property. The judge has promised that he will make a ruleing on Peachtree and Pine within 2 weeks. Clearly the City, the business community and Emory Hospital engaged in racketeering to deny funding to the Task Force. That is a crime and someone should be punished!

    Since the City is immune from prosecution, it’s’ agent, Debbie Starnes, who don’t enjoy that privilege, along with A. J. Robinson and Horace Sibley should be remanded to prison for their heinous crimes!

  3. Maynard Eaton says:

    Mayor, your comments suggested that Kasim Reed–the man you nurtured and supported to succeed you — has abandoned your plans for Fort McPherson with his proposed sale to Tyler Perry, and is stiffing the community in favor of a secluded and private movie studio

  4. Maynard, that is EXACTLY what Mayor Reed is doing. And everyone else is letting him, include Council Woman Shepard and State Sen. Fort, because it is Tyler Perry. It is a shame that many many people spent hours talking about what they wanted and providing input, only to see the football yanked away yet again.