Atlanta, church reach deal on property for Falcons stadium

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ATLANTA — Atlanta officials have reached a $19.5 million preliminary deal to buy the property of one of two churches needed to build a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons, Mayor Kasim Reed said Tuesday.

The agreement to buy Friendship Baptist Church using money from the Atlanta Falcons amounts to a partial victory for stadium supporters.

To complete the deal, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority would still need to reach an agreement with a separate church, Mount Vernon Baptist Church. Those talks broke down Aug. 1.

Afterward, the state authority said it would explore a different site north of the current Georgia Dome.

Reed wants the stadium built on a site south of the existing stadium. The mayor said in a news conference that the originally proposed site would be better served by two public transit stations, alleviating game day traffic jams in the city. Reed said that he asked former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young to serve as an intermediary to help relaunch talks between the state agency and Mount Vernon.

“For us to impose an artificial deadline when a significant part of this transaction has been closed, the hardest part, I think does not make sense,” Reed said. “We can walk and chew gum at the same.”

Georgia World Congress Center Authority officials did not say whether the agency would reopen talks with the Mount Vernon Baptist as Reed requested.

“The authority congratulates the mayor on his efforts with Friendship and recognize it was a heavy political lift,” GWCCA spokeswoman Jennifer LeMaster said in a statement. “We welcome a conversation with the mayor in regards to Mt. Vernon Baptist Church.”

Authority officials told a lawyer for Mount Vernon during negotiations that state law forbids it from paying more for a property than its appraised fair market value. Reed told reporters that he understood the legal restrictions. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to figure this out as a community,” Reed said.

Documents released by the authority show it broke off negotiations after Mount Vernon rejected a $6.2 million offer. Church leaders wanted more than $20 million. During one back-and-forth email exchange over an earlier $4.8 million offer, church attorney Bill Montgomery said that negotiations were likely to fail unless the authority got money from private sources to raise its offer.

Montgomery said Tuesday that no one from the authority has asked to resume talks.

“I’m sure my client would be willing to entertain any overtures the authority would make,” Montgomery said.

Friendship church, established in 1862, first met in a donated boxcar that doubled as a space for worship and a classroom for Atlanta University. After it moved to Atlanta, Morehouse College set up classes at the church. Spelman College started in its basement.

Lloyd Hawk, chairman of the church’s board of trustees, said the agreement must still be approved by the congregation.

“If we didn’t feel there was a benefit to the church and the community, we would have said no eight months ago,” he said.


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