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Forest Park closer to final Fort Gillem plan

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The Forest Park/Fort Gillem Local Redevelopment Authority updated the public Thursday on its plans for the Fort Gillem Army base once it closes in 2011.

The LRA indicated Thursday it will focus its energy on bringing manufacturing and light industry to the area, with the intention of creating thousands of new jobs in Forest Park.

Fred Bryant, executive director of the LRA, outlined the group's plans during a Clayton County Chamber of Commerce breakfast Thursday morning. Before an audience of 150 local business leaders, he said the authority - which includes Forest Park's mayor and city council - plans to spend $750 million over 15 to 20 years redeveloping the Fort Gillem property.

The results, Bryant said, will be 1 million square feet of new office space and 8.2 million square feet of industrial, manufacturing, and warehouse space, creating 17,642 permanent jobs, and 4,700 construction jobs. He said the authority will submit its economic development plans to the Army for approval in July.

"When we try to apply to them, we have to demonstrate that we can do a better job of creating jobs by [the Army] selling [the property] to us, than if they put it on the open market," Bryant said. "Residential development creates construction jobs, but not permanent jobs." He said by focusing on industrial development, the Army may look upon the redevelopment project more favorably.

Bryant said a major factor in the Army's acceptance of the proposal will be the authority's ability to finance the redevelopment through the use of a Tax Allocation District.

The Clayton County government and Clayton County Public Schools will have to donate their portions of the property tax revenues in order for the TAD to be successful in funding the project, he said.

"It's important that we get the support of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners and the school board on the TAD," Bryant said. "Otherwise, it will take light years to finish the projects."

If successful, the authority will be able to develop 1,190 of Fort Gillem's 1,427-acre property. Two-hundred and thirty-seven acres of the property will be reserved for an Army enclave, which will house an Army Criminal Investigation Command, an Army Reserve Center, the 81st Regional Readiness Command, and a processing station for recruits.

Bryant said the plans for the property are not solely industrial, as there are considerations for an Army Junior ROTC charter school on the property, as well as operation space for faith-based organizations.

The authority will finalize its business plan in about 45 days, Bryant said.

Forest Park Mayor Corine Deyton said she is pleased with the progress of the authority and believes the development will help turn the local economy around.

"It's an exciting opportunity for us," Deyton said. "It's an opportunity I never dreamed of in my 49 years here."

She said if the city acquires the property, Forest Park will double in size.

Grant Wainscott, Clayton County's economic development director, said the recent planning by the LRA will make it easier for the county to steer development toward the Fort Gillem property.

"We're thrilled with the progress they have made," Wainscott said. "There are challenges there with some of the infrastructure, but we've known that from day one. The greatest challenge is the phase we're in right now ... convincing the Army to agree to what we want to do.

"The LRA has been able to move more succinctly," he added. "I think that will improve the chances of the Army responding favorably."