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New Gillem board holds first meeting Minority contracts become top issue

Fred Bryant, at left, gets members of the newly-formed URA up to speed on their duties and responsibilities. At far left is Lois Wright seated next to City Manager Frank Brandon. Across the table are Felicia Davis and Joe Wimberly. The fifth member is Don Wright, not pictured. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

Fred Bryant, at left, gets members of the newly-formed URA up to speed on their duties and responsibilities. At far left is Lois Wright seated next to City Manager Frank Brandon. Across the table are Felicia Davis and Joe Wimberly. The fifth member is Don Wright, not pictured. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

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Fred Bryant heads the first URA meeting. At right is aerial view of former Army base Fort Gillem. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

FOREST PARK — The newly-formed Urban Redevelopment Agency met for the first time Wednesday and much of the discussion centered on minority contracts.

Appointed members Lois Wright, Don Wright, Joe Wimberly, City Manager Frank Brandon and Felicia Davis voted to recommend Brandon chair and Lois Wright vice-chair of the board that will facilitate the transfer of Army property to the City of Forest Park.

City council members have the final decision on those positions and are expected to take up the recommendations Monday.

Davis questioned their qualifications to head the board.

“I know everything there is to know about this project,” said Brandon. “I’ve attended all the meetings in the last eight months. I’ve been in Forest Park 40 years, taught at Forest Park High School and at Clayton State University.”

Lois Wright said she, too, is knowledgeable about the project.

“Forest Park has my best interest,” she said. “I am concerned about the residents and everything about Fort Gillem. I want to be in on what’s going on at Fort Gillem.”

Officials expect to close on about 778 acres inside Gillem May 2, with the remaining estimated 400 acres coming into the city in the fall, said Fred Bryant, executive director of Implementation Local Redevelopment Authority.

SunTrust Bank is providing financing for the multi-million dollar project, said Bryant.

Bryant recommended that URA members appoint advisers to help assist them as they make decisions about Gillem. The board is expected to name Bryant its executive director.

“Don’t be overwhelmed,” he said. “You will have plenty of time to learn what you need to do. The city attorney will help assist. I would suggest you also appoint members of ILRA as advisers because of their knowledge.”

Fort Gillem was a thriving Army base since 1941 until it was recommended for closure in 2005. Since that time, Forest Park city officials have negotiated through IRLA with the Army to buy the property for redevelopment as a commerce park. John Westervelt has served several terms as chairman of that committee and Bryant recommended he act as advisor to URA.

“This body, URA, will replace IRLA,” said Bryant. “We’ve already gone to the government and asked that you be recognized as the body that will be accepting the transfer of property.”

City governments aren’t legally able to make purchases such as Gillem without a public referendum unless there is a board such as URA in place to act for them, said Bryant.

Bryant also recommended Lake City Mayor Willie Oswalt and Georgia Power Regional Manager Daryl Brown as URA advisers. Brown manages Atlanta Metro South operations that include Clayton County.

“We’re going to need to cut a road through Lake City so it will be helpful to have Mayor Oswalt as an advisor,” said Brandon. “The same thing for Daryl Brown. We’re going to need Georgia Power’s help in getting utilities.”

With the recommended appointments made, Davis broached the subject of minority contracts. Bryant told her there are no contracts pending.

“Can we get a report on participants on previously-let contracts?” she said before Bryant assured her the board could get that information. “I like to be responsive to the people who asked me to do this. I’m very astute at getting information out. I’m an elitist and pick the best.”

Bryant told Davis and the board that all federal guidelines have been followed in letting contracts.

“They’ve followed all the stipulations, followed all the guidelines just like Hartsfield-Jackson (Atlanta airport) does,” he said. “We follow everything we are supposed to not because we have to but because it’s the right thing to do. Everyone has the right to compete. We are 100 percent in accordance with the law.”