GWCCA committee agrees to study north site for football stadium; move north faces community opposition

By Maria Saporta

Reality has set in, and it’s time for the Georgia World Congress Center Authority and the Atlanta Falcons to take a more serious look at the north site for the new $1 billion football stadium.

The Stadium Development Committee of the GWCCA agreed to have the entire board vote at next Tuesday’s meeting on a resolution to conduct an in-depth feasibility analysis of the north site to “review all aspects” of the physical conditions of the north site including engineering, soils, geophysical conditions, wetlands and other environmental issues on the site that is located on the northeast corner of Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard and Northside Drive.

The north site has been the back-up location in case there were problems with the problems with the preferred south site, which is located at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Northside Drive, just south of the existing Georgia Dome.

In order for the new retractable roof to be built on the south site, two historically-black churches would have to be acquired. So far, no agreements have been reached with either Mount Vernon Baptist Church or Friendship Baptist Church. The Atlanta Falcons had set an Aug. 1 deadline to determine whether it would be feasible to build the new stadium on the south site.

But moving the stadium to the north site could encounter some significant opposition.

“Our Northwest Community Alliance would find it unacceptable for them to go to the north site,” said Michael Koblentz, chairman of the alliance. “One of the main reasons is that one of our member organizations — the Marietta Street Artery Association is vehemently opposed to the site.”

Koblentz also said that the north site is less desirable from an urban development standpoint.

“We don’t want the stadium to create a Great Wall of China, which would be a lot worse on the north site,” Koblentz said, adding that the opportunity for community redevelopment and better access to MARTA is much better at the southern location.

Frank Poe, GWCCA executive director, said that both options — the south and north sites — are still under consideration. But with the Aug. 1 deadline approaching, he said it was prudent for GWCCA to conduct feasibility studies on the north site.

“We have seen the south site, at the (GWCC) board level and the staff level, as the preferred site,” Poe said. “Reality sets in. We have to be prepared that we are not being an impediment.”

After the GWCC committee meeting, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank issued a statement saying that either site would work for the new stadium and that each site has its advantages and disadvantages.

“The new stadium project is a model public-private partnership built upon a spirit of cooperation and collaboration,” Blank said. “ We want this project to go down in the history books as an example of an economic development vehicle that creates a win for all parties involved, including Friendship Baptist Church, Mt. Vernon Baptist Church and the surrounding communities.  We remain committed to making that happen.”

The north site is not without its own issues.

“If you look at some of the studies, there are challenges on the north site, such as the power lines,” Poe said.

Asked about the status of negotiation on the acquisition of the two churches, Poe said: “no comment.”

GWCCA has been in charge of negotiations with Mount Vernon, and the City of Atlanta has been heading up negotiations with Friendship Baptist Church. So far, there has not been an agreement with either one.

The Stadium Development Committee did go into executive session for nearly an hour to discuss real estate negotiations and the status of that activity, but no one would make any comments to the press.

The Atlanta Falcons have said they would like to complete the feasibility studies on the north site by Oct. 1. The schedule is part of the agreements that have been signed with GWCCA, and it has been put in place with a goal of opening the new stadium in time for the 2017 football season.

Once the new stadium is built, the Georgia Dome would be demolished.

Arthur Blank’s full statement is as follows:

In response to inquiries regarding the Falcons’ site preference for the new Atlanta stadium, Falcons Owner & Chairman Arthur Blank issued the following statement:

 Under the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding between StadCo (the Falcons stadium company) and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, we have until August 1, 2013, to perform feasibility studies and inspections on the south site option for the new stadium.  We have conducted a good amount of this work on the south site, but more work remains.  Due to our desire to keep the stadium design process on track for an NFL 2017 season opening, we determined it was prudent to also begin the feasibility and inspection process on the north site.

The Falcons originally expressed a preference for the north site for the new stadium.  However, we subsequently agreed to the south site as the preferred site, primarily given its attractiveness to other partners in the project.

There are advantages to both sites.

The clear advantage of the south site is its proximity to MARTA, which is important to our fans and the Georgia World Congress Center, as well as to access to the jobs that will be created during and after construction of the new stadium.  The key advantage of the north site is that its size and location provides the flexibility to optimally position the new stadium.  The bottom line, though, is that both sites are workable solutions. 

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority and City of Atlanta have worked diligently and in good faith regarding the potential acquisitions of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church and Friendship Baptist Church, respectively, as it relates to the south site.  We, along with the Authority and Mayor, have no interest in forcing these churches to move, and we have been public and forthright in saying so.  If the churches determine that selling their property is not in their best interest, we will respect their positions and build the new stadium on the north site.  We are sensitive to the churches’ importance to and histories in the community and if they have any concerns at all, they should not sell.

To be clear, the churches need to make the decision that is right for them, not for us.

 The new stadium project is a model public-private partnership built upon a spirit of cooperation and collaboration.  We want this project to go down in the history books as an example of an economic development vehicle that creates a win for all parties involved, including Friendship Baptist Church, Mt. Vernon Baptist Church and the surrounding communities.  We remain committed to making that happen.

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Again no mention of how much the public will be paying for this project.

Is Saporta afraid of losing access to Arthur Blank's press releases if she reports the facts, or does she just not own a calculator?