Forest Park officials have high hopes for base property

By Justin Boron

The way some Forest Park officials see it, Fort Gillem may be worth more to the area closed than open in the long run.

To make the base's closing final, the U.S. Congress must accept the Base Realignment and Closure list containing four Georgia military installations. But in the meantime, a city-organized committee is preparing redevelopment plans for the Gillem property that officials say could grow high-income jobs while boosting county and city tax revenue.

Forest Park Mayor Chuck Hall acknowledges that the base's closure is a loss of a valuable asset, but he also said he sees opportunity in it.

"It is very vital to our homeland security, national security, and international security," he said. "At the same time - if it is proposed to be closed - if the development of the base is done in the right manner, it can be a plus for (Atlanta's) Southside community."

Hall said he wants the commercial redevelopment to include businesses that offer jobs paying from $18 to $35 an hour.

Crandle Bray, a former county commission chairman who is heading the redevelopment committee, said the base property has the potential to have three times the economic impact that it has now.

"It could be a tremendous benefit," Bray said.

Once the more than 1,400 acres of property goes on the tax rolls, it means more revenue for the county and Forest Park, he said.

But how much of a chunk becomes taxable depends on the amount of property that is enclaved and kept by federal agencies.

State officials have said the 81st Regional Readiness Command and the Army's Criminal Investigation Divisions Forensics Laboratory will remain.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration also has a staging point set up at the base that consists of 126,000 square feet of covered storage, 80,000 square feet of open space, and more than six acres of open storage.

Susie Webb, a FEMA spokeswoman, said the agency is working with military officials for more space at the base. But she could not say how much.

Another lingering question is how much impact the oil, detergents, and cleaning solutions buried at the base after World War II will have on the redevelopment.

Bray said only about 200 acres of the property would require an environmental cleanup and that would be paid for by the U.S. Army.

Although the redevelopment committee is city appointed, Hall said it would operate without a large amount of influence from the City Council, albeit he thinks council members should have some "say-so."

Sparkle K. Adams, one of the committee members, is running for city council and would have to be replaced if she is elected, Hall said.