By Maria Saporta
Friendship Baptist Church is moving forward with talks to sell its property to make way for a new Atlanta Falcons football stadium on the site south of the Georgia Dome.
Those talks are proceeding despite the current shift by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority and the Atlanta Falcons to seriously reconsider the north site about a half mile away.
“We are still in talks,” said Lloyd Hawk, chairman of Friendship’s board of trustees.. “We are not doing anything to hinder the process, and we are working towards a solution with the Falcons and the city.”
The Atlanta Falcons had set an Aug. 1 deadline to determine the feasibility of building on the south site. That included the need to acquire two historically-black churches — Friendship and Mount Vernon Baptist Church.
But negotiations with both churches have either dragged on or stalled.
So the GWCCA and the Falcons have begun focusing their efforts on the north site and are beginning to do “due diligence” on the physical and environmental conditions of the property at the corner of Northside Drive and Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard.
Leaders of Friendship Baptist Church, however, believe they could reach a tentative deal with the Atlanta Falcons and the City of Atlanta by the Aug. 1 deadline.
“We have allowed the Falcons’ stadium development engineers to come on site to do their soil tests and geotechnical work,” Hawk said. “They are out there right now.”
Hawk said that church leaders understand the community benefits of building the new $1 billion retractable roof stadium south of the Georgia Dome. That site is sandwiched between two MARTA stations while the north site is about a half-mile away from a MARTA station.
Whether a deal could be reached in a week, Hawk said that would depend on “how quickly the Falcons will have an acceptable proposal in our hands.”
The two governing boards of Friendship Baptist Church — the board of trustees and the board of deacons — conceivably could review and vote on an offer to sell the church within the next seven days.
But Hawk added that the earliest that the entire congregation likely would be able to vote would be on Sunday, Aug. 4.
The Atlanta City Council approved the financial plan for the new Falcons stadium in March. At the time, it seemed as though Aug 1 would provide ample time for agreements to be reached with both churches.
Rich McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons, said Wednesday afternoon that the Aug. 1 deadline had been set to get the development team the flexibility to build the stadium by March 2017. Have the north site as an option provides that flexibility.
“We have always thought that the north site was a good site,” McKay said, adding that the due diligence review of the north site is “just to keep the timeline going.”
McKay did acknowledge that the north site has its own set of challenges.
“A lot has been done already,” McKay said. “We have taken a pretty deep look on the north with the power line issue and the marshalling yard issue. There are transmission lines that would have to be moved.”
McKay also said that the north site also has some contaminated soil, so there would have to be some soil remediation on the property.
If the Falcons are able to strike a deal with Friendship, there’s one train of thought that it would help bring Mount Vernon and GWCCA back to the negotiating table. According to people close to Mount Vernon, the church wants to be sure it is treated fairly. So it is closely watching what kind of deal Friendship might strike with the Falcons to see what it should ask for.
The GWCCA, according to insiders, is under more restrictive state guidelines in what it can offer when it seeks to buy real estate.