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Manufacturers showing interest in Fort Gillem

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Though the Army still occupies Fort Gillem and the dreamed-of light industrial district is still just a plan on a map, the Local Redevelopment Authority (LRA) is already receiving inquiries from manufacturing companies.

"What we have here, is just not heard of in the Atlanta area," said Fred Bryant, executive director of the Forest Park LRA. "It's just not available -- This much acreage this close to intestates, the airport and a railroad."

In recent days, the Georgia Department of Economic Development and Georgia Power have directed people who are interested in building manufacturing facilities in metro Atlanta to the LRA. One company, not yet named, has discussed relocating its manufacturing plant, headquarters, research and development and training facilities to the redeveloped fort, when the Army turns over 1,190 acres and abandons the base, Bryant said.

The unnamed company would bring in an estimated $3.2 billion a year and would bring about 2,000 jobs to Forest Park during its first year of operation, according to the executive director. The company could eventually bring between 6,000 to 8,000 jobs.

The master developers -- a partnership of Cousins Properties, LNR Property Corporation and The Benham Cos. -- estimate the redevelopment will bring a total of more than 17,500 permanent jobs to the area.

The Army's Base Realignment And Closure (BRAC) Officer, Glynn Ryan, has said the main concern, in transferring an installation from federal government to local control, is creating replacement jobs and shoring-up the local economy as the Army vacates. Bryant believes the early inquires about available property at the to-be-redeveloped fort is a strong sign of the economic possibilities offered to the LRA and the city of Forest Park.

Turning the 1,190 available acres into a mixed-use area, made up of mostly light industrial development, will also bring in $243 million annually, in property taxes, the developers estimate. Right now, the city collects about $230 million in property taxes every year, Bryant said.

Developers estimate, though, that the construction of the preferred plan could take 10 to 15 years after the city has control of the property. While the Army could turn over some of the land as early as 2009, they are not required to leave, or expected to leave, until the fall of 2011.

The total redevelopment -- with more than 700 housing units, 435,000 square feet of retail space, 1 million square feet of office space, 8.2 million square feet of light industrial space and more than 17,000 jobs -- could take until 2026 to be realized.

Until then, according to the master developers, new development investment is estimated at $750 million, and there could be as many as 4,700 temporary construction jobs in Forest Park.

With the re-use plan in place, the LRA is currently working with the master developers on an economic development conveyance application, which will show the BRAC officials "the whole business plan" to "generate more jobs" and "kick start the local economy," Bryant said.

The application, phase three in the land-transfer process, is expected to be completed in 12 to 18 months, and then the master developers and the LRA will begin negotiations with the Army.

"We have to go from that conceptual plan to an actual plan," said Matt Gove, a vice president at Cousins Properties. "The process starts with negotiations with the Army about how the land will be transferred."