City could close Fort Gillem deal by February

FOREST PARK — Officials could finalize the purchase of the former Army base by February and residents are another step closer to learning which businesses are locating to that property.

Members of the Forest Park/Fort Gillem Implementation Local Redevelopment Authority recently heard from their executive director, Fred Bryant, on updated news on the project.

“I had conversations with the Army team and we will be closing on the property between Jan. 24 and Feb. 26,” said Bryant. “There is more to follow but we have locked in on a date instead of ‘sometime in this lifetime,’ which is what it has been.”

When members expressed skepticism about the Army keeping its word, Bryant was reassuring.

“The Army will not move the date,” he said.

The 1,170-acre Fort Gillem was recommended for closure in May 2005. However, the U.S. Army retains a 250-acre enclave that includes its Criminal Investigations Division Crime Lab, a state-of-the-art facility.

There are also about 165 acres of contaminated groundwater scattered about the property. The Army will assume 100 percent responsibility for the clean-up, whether the city contracts out the work or the Army performs it, said Bryant.

Bryant said the city is also closer to the release of the name of the company that is locating to the property. The business has been referred to as Project Jasper to protect the integrity of the development, he said.

“The Atlanta Regional Commission has said that Project Jasper won’t have to go through Development of Regional Impact, which is good news,” said Bryant.

Under the Georgia Planning Act, development projects that are likely to have an impact beyond the host local government’s jurisdiction are subject to review as Developments of Regional Impact, according to the ARC.

“We fully expect after Thanksgiving to receive a contract,” Bryant said. “And we expect a decision by Dec. 6, providing there are no major hiccups. I hope to have fantastic news to report in December.”

A second confidential project, Bluebird, is also close to being revealed.

“This is a very wonderful opportunity for us,” said Bryant. “They do a lot of work with ‘Jasper.’”

The Authority voted during the meeting to establish an Urban Redevelopment Agency, an entity appointed by Forest Park mayor and council. The five members have to be Forest Park residents and cannot be elected officials, said Bryant, but don’t need any specific or unique experiences or qualifications.

“They need to be someone who cares about the city of Forest Park,” he said. “Someone without a political agenda. This is not a political position.”

Bryant then outlined some of the duties of the members of a URA.

“They will authorize bonds, get loans, lines of credit, buy and sell property — everything that needs to be done to finalize the deal with the Army,” he said. “This (Forest Park/Fort Gillem Implementation Local Redevelopment Authority) will become advisory to that agency.”

Bryant said he and Army representatives are also negotiating the memorandum of agreement because of an “as is” clause that the city is not comfortable with.

“It’s very, very important because it talks about ‘as is,’ which, as you know, means exactly that,” he said. “There could be things like ammunition, unexploded ordnances, chemical or biological materials. The Army says there are none on Fort Gillem that they know of but we want to include that they are responsible if they are found.”