Forward, March for Fort Gillem Remake

Fort Gillem will soon be transferred to a civilian group that hopes to remake it into a teeming logistics hub that employs thousands

April 01--Fort Gillem, after years of high hopes and false starts, will soon be transferred to a civilian group that hopes to remake it into a teeming logistics hub that employs thousands.

A redevelopment authority set up to transform the dormant Army post in Forest Park will take control of about half the 1,400-acre site on May 2, authority chief Fred Bryant said Monday.

It's the first phase in a total land transfer of 1,168 acres, with the rest going into civilian hands later this year once long-delayed environmental cleanup is done.

Redevelopment would boost Clayton County, and Bryant said the authority is on the verge of its first major deal.

He said a distribution company is expected to close on 320 acres at the military post on May 2 as well and plans a $100 million, state-of-the-art distribution facility. The facility would open in the fall of 2015 with about 750 to 1,000 jobs, said Bryant, executive director of the Forest Park/Fort Gillem Implementation Local Redevelopment Authority.

He declined to name the company but said talks have been underway for 18 months.

The authority also is in preliminary talks with another distribution firm looking to build a million-square-foot-plus facility as well. It too would create 750 to 1,000 jobs. That company is considering other metro Atlanta sites as well, Bryant said.

One of the prospective tenants could be Kroger. The grocery store giant has been scouting sites for a new distribution center. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last year that Kroger -- under the codename Project Jasper -- was considering a distribution hub in a planned industrial park at the Fulton County Airport.

Fort Gillem redevelopment authority have discussed a Project Jasper, according to meeting minutes.

A Kroger spokesman did not return a message seeking comment.

Fort Gillem, along with Fort McPherson in East Point, was pegged for closure during a mid-2000s military downsizing program, and the two installations' activities wound down amid the worst recession in generations.

Now, "we're looking long-term at 2,500 to 3,000 new jobs and more than doubling the tax base for the city of Forest Park," said Bryant, an Army retiree.

"We just look at this as an incredible opportunity to do something very quickly," Bryant added. "Forest Park has always been transportation and logistics-oriented. This is just a perfect way to keep that legacy going."

Forest Park officials hailed the plans.

"I'm thrilled about the potential this holds for our city," Forest Park Mayor David Lockhart said. "There's finally real movement and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel."

Plans for Fort McPherson are still delayed after one of the key developers left to focus on other projects.

Fort Gillem's redevelopers envision a 7 million square foot logistics,wholesale trade and manufacturing complex teeming with 3,000 workers -- many of them skilled and earning high wages -- within the next five to 10 years.

Fort Gillem's location puts it in the middle of metro Atlanta's logistics, warehousing and wholesale trade hub, with four major interstates and the Atlanta airport nearby.

"Georgia really wants to be a player in the logistics, wholesale trade and warehousing arena and between the port in Savannah and Hartsfield Airport, we already have significant infrastructure in that sector. This will be another asset to support that growth," said Roger Tutterow, economics professor at Mercer University.

"The opportunity for jobs is going to be phenomenal," said Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner.

Fort Gillem was founded in 1941 and later named for Lt. Gen. Alvan Gillem Jr. After the 2011 closure, the Army kept more than 250 acres and a military forensic lab.

The property has had environmental issues and a portion could be designated a Superfund site. Georgia and federal officials have been at odds for years over the cleanup of industrial solvents on the site, which has contaminated groundwater, streams and ponds nearby.

The portion of Fort Gillem that Forest Park plans to take over next month is the cleaner of the two main tracts, and the transfer does not require approval by state environmental regulators, said Judson Turner, director of the state Environmental Protection Division.

Turner said state officials have had positive discussions with the Army about an environmental remediation agreement for the contaminated areas. He said he hopes a pact can be reached by the summer.

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