By Maria Saporta and Amy Wenk
The Atlanta Falcons issued a letter to the Georgia World Congress Center Authority Tuesday declaring that the south site is not a feasible location for a new football stadium “at this time.”
The letter mentioned several reasons including the fact that Mount Vernon Baptist Church, Friendship Baptist Church and other necessary parcels on the south site had not yet been acquired and the fact that they had been unable to complete environmental and other required testing on those properties.
For those reasons, the Falcons and GWCCA decided Tuesday that the $1 billion stadium would be built on the north site, about a half mile away, at the corner of Northside Drive and Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard. The south site is located next to the Georgia Dome at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Northside Drive.
“We are going to turn our attention to the north site,” said Frank Poe, GWCCA’s executive director. “The Falcons have indicated that the south site is not feasible, and that they have been unable to gain access.”
But there is still some question about whether the south site is completely dead.
The south site has been the preferred site of the City of Atlanta, the GWCCA and eventually the Atlanta Falcons because of its proximity to two MARTA stations and to the convention center. It also was viewed as an opportunity to better integrate the new stadium with downtown and the Vine City community.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who was having lunch Tuesday at the Commerce Club, was asked about the shift to the north site.
“I don’t have any thoughts,” Reed said. “I don’t have any comments on that. The stadium is going to be built.”
Interestingly enough, although the Falcons said the south site was not feasible, negotiations between the city and Friendship Baptist Church were continuing on Tuesday.
“We are going to continue to have negotiations with them,” said Lloyd Hawk, chairman of the board of trustees of Friendship Baptist Church. “We actually are very close. We are still proceeding with our negotiations, and they are positive. We are definitely convinced that negotiations haven’t stopped on the south site, and we are all working very hard to make this work.”
Also Poe said that GWCCA had made a final offer Tuesday morning to Mount Vernon Baptist Church, which would seem to indicate that the south site was still a viable option.
The memorandum of understanding between GWCCA and the Atlanta Falcons said that a decision would be made by Aug. 1 on whether the south site would be feasible.
GWCCA Chairman Tim Lowe said the board had to act on Tuesday because that was the last meeting it would have before the Aug. 1 deadline.
“These are real dates,” Lowe said. “We set ample opportunity for those things (acquisition and soil testing) to happen. You have to keep to your schedule.”
Lowe said it was important for the churches to know that the state would not enter into condemnation proceedings against them.
“We will negotiate within the law,” Lowe said. “That puts a boundary in what we can offer and what we can’t offer.”
Also Poe did acknowledge that there are challenges with the north site, including having to relocate high intensity transmission lines as well as cleaning up contaminated soil.
By adding the words “at this time” to their letter, the Atlanta Falcons may have left open the possibility that they could revisit the south site if the challenges on the north site were too great.