By Maria Saporta
In an attempt to revive the south site as the preferred option for the new Atlanta Falcons stadium, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced Tuesday that the city has reached a deal to buy Friendship Baptist Church for $19.5 million.
“I believe the south site is the right long-term vision,” Reed said about his dedication to making the south site work. “It has two MARTA stations. It is close to the convention center. There would be less traffic and less congestion. And it would not have as great a mitigating impact on the neighborhoods.”
Friendship is one of two churches that would need to be acquired for the football stadium to be built on a site south of the Georgia Dome. Talks between the Georgia World Congress Center Authority and the other church — Mount Vernon Baptist Church, have broken off because the two parties are nearly $14 million apart.
“We commend the mayor, city officials and the congregation of Friendship Baptist Church for all of their hard work in reaching a tentative agreement for the acquisition of the church property,” the Falcons said in a statement issued after the press conference. “The church property purchase price falls within the terms of the MOU (memorandum of understanding) for the acquisition of property adjacent to the proposed south site for the new stadium. This is certainly a positive development for the south site; however, other significant issues and requirements remain unresolved on that site.”
The Atlanta Falcons representatives on July 30 stated that since those two church properties had not yet been acquired by the agreed to Aug. 1 deadline, they had determined that the south site was not feasible. Instead they would turn their attention to the less desirable north site at the corner of Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard and Northside Drive.
The mayor urged all the parties in the negotiations to come back together to try to make the south site work.
“I’m going to respectfully ask the Georgia World Congress Center to renew their efforts to come to an agreement with Mount Vernon,” Reed said. “I believe the GWCC was right (in breaking off negotiations with Mount Vernon). But the north site is not the best 20 or 30 year decision. If we can come to an agreement with the churches, I believe it’s reasonable for us to ask.”
Reed added that he had talked to former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young Monday night, and the former mayor is willing to help facilitate discussions between GWCCA and Mount Vernon, if both parties are willing.
The mayor went on to say that he understood the predicament that the state faces in its negotiations with Mount Vernon.
“By law, they have a cap to what they can pay above the appraised value,” Reed said. “The Georgia World Congress Center is not being a bad actor.”
The mayor also said that he plans to visit Mount Vernon’s pastor, Rev. R.K. Turner, in the near future.
During the press conference, the mayor was joined by several members of the Atlanta City Council, including the three at-large council members — Aaron Watson, Michael Julian Bond and Lamar Willis.
The mayor reminded those attending the press conference that the city was the second largest contributor to the new Atlanta Falcons stadium. About $200 million of the $1 billion needed to construct the stadium is coming from Invest Atlanta bonds that will be backed by the city’s hotel-motel tax. But before those bonds can be issued, members of the Atlanta City Council and leaders in the surrounding neighborhoods have to agree to a Community Benefits Plan or Agreement.
Mayor Reed suggested that some members of City Council may not be as supportive of the stadium project if it were to be located on the north site. And the project still needs to get the Community Benefits Agreement passed in order to issue the bonds.
After the press conference, both Council members Watson and Willis said they preferred the south site because of its connectivity to MARTA. They both said they would be willing to support legislation in favor of the south site, if necessary. Both of them had been yes votes when the City Council approved the project in an 11 to 4 vote in March.
Although the mayor said he knew the deadline to reach an agreement with Friendship was Aug. 1, he said that date could be seen as an “artificial deadline.”
The mayor had been tasked to negotiate the deal with Friendship, but the money to do the transaction would be coming from the Atlanta Falcons. The fact that no representatives of the Atlanta Falcons attended the press conference left open the possibility that the mayor was working on his own.
“It was my job to bring Friendship home,” the mayor said. A few days should not prevent the state and the Falcons from making the right decision on an investment that will be so important for the city for the next three decades.
“In 10 years, 20 years and 30 years, Falcons fans should be able to take MARTA and get on a train to go home,” Reed said. “That is the future.”
Asked if he was planning to meet with Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank to urge him to not give up on the south site, Reed said he has a good relationship with Blank.
“He’s a personal friend,” Reed said. “I think we will be able to have whatever conversation we need to have.”