Fort redevelopment coming together

By Ed Brock

For nearly 14 years now Song Bevill has operated Shopwise Package Store just across Jonesboro Road from the gates of Army Garrison Fort Gillem in Forest Park.

Now that those gates are all but set to close, Bevill has some ideas about what should come next.

“How about a nice big theater?” Bevill said.

“I want a coffee shop and book store,” said her employee Lori Christie.

Just something to bring well educated, professional people into the area, Bevill said.

If Congress approves the current version of the Base Realignment and Closure list by November, or by failing to vote allows the list to become law, Gillem and its parent facility Fort McPherson will close.

Now the Forest Park/Fort Gillem Local Redevelopment Authority is moving ahead with efforts to bring new growth to the 1,400 acres of land on which the fort sits.

Last week the city council voted to accept a $174,000 Dual Tracking Grant from the Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment, with a $20,000 match from the city, to pay the salary and benefits of a Base Re-use Coordinator.

The coordinator will oversee the LRA's staff, budget and activities, develop financial feasibility and market analysis of redevelopment options, and serve as a liaison with local, state and federal agencies, including the Department of Defense.

“We've got applications from all over the country already,” said Crandle Bray, a former Clayton County commission chairman who is now heading the LRA.

Bray said the coordinator will need some bureaucratic skills.

“We need somebody who knows the players and knows how to work through the system,” Bray said. “If we could find somebody here that (for the job) that would be great.”

But right now the LRA can't make more specific plans because the Defense Department is still settling how much of the fort's properties will remain under federal control. The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Forensic Lab and the Army Reserve Center at least are expected to stay in an enclave.

On Tuesday the city's Mayor Chuck Hall attended a meeting of the Association of American Defense Communities, an organization for communities that are experiencing military base closures or experienced one in the past.

“Some of them go back to 1988 (for having experienced a closure,)” Hall said.

Hall said he learned that those communities survived the closures because “they had the proper people in the proper place at the proper time.”

“You pick up new information every time you go to (a meeting of the association,)” Hall said.

Hall and Bray said it will take two to three weeks to pick a candidate for the coordinator position.