By Maria Saporta and Doug Sams
The City of Atlanta and Friendship Baptist Church have put in a joint proposal worth $12.6 million to buy nearly all of the 37 acres of the Morris Brown College property in the critically important community just west of the new Atlanta Falcons stadium.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said the city decided to put in a proposal to buy the property because “that corridor is very important for where we are going as a city.”
Reed confirmed the city’s offer to buy the Morris Brown property after speaking to the prestigious Commerce Club board at a private lunch meeting Thursday. Morris Brown currently is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The real estate firm of Jones Lang LaSalle was to receive proposals as of close of business April 30 from prospective buyers for the property.
“We didn’t want that property to end up in the hands of people who don’t have a coordinated view of the city and the overall business and development plans for the area,” Reed explained.
The city had made an earlier offer of about $10 million to buy the Morris Brown property, but the college leaders had turned down that bid in the hopes of getting a more lucrative deal that never materialized.
Reed said that by partnering with Friendship Baptist Church, one of the two churches that had to be relocated to make way for the new stadium, the city’s proposal is now more attractive.
“The city has been able to reduce its contribution to $9 million and Friendship is contributing $3.6 million,” Reed said. “I think the offer speaks for our seriousness. Basically this is for all of the Morris Brown property exclusive of the four or five academic buildings where Morris Brown could continue to operate.”
Reed said that he understands that another firm has submitted an offer, but he does not know who it is. Calls to Jones Lang LaSalle have not been returned as of when we filed this post. Reed said the city expects to hear within the next 15 days whether its proposal has been accepted by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and Morris Brown College.
In a press briefing two weeks ago, Reed said the city did not intend to make a proposal to buy the Morris Brown property. On Thursday, Reed said he changed his mind because of the importance of this corridor to the future development of the area. He also said that if it had been known prior to the submission that the city was going to compete for the property, many other parties would have put in proposals for the land.
Morris Brown College has at least $9 million it has to repay to creditors including $7.5 million to the AME Church and $1.5 million the U.S. Department of Education.
Under the joint City of Atlanta-Friendship offer, Morris Brown would have some funding available to continue operating the College, which had been one of the major sticking points in the last offer that the city had made nearly a couple of years ago.
Reed said that the city decided to partner with Friendship to demonstrate how important it was to keep the historic church in the community. Both Spelman College and Morehouse College can trace their roots back to Friendship Baptist Church.
“We want Friendship to be a permanent part of the community,” Reed said. “There was a great deal of concern in the community that Friendship would leave and not return. They are going to continue to operate their community-focused operation in the area.”
As part of the city’s proposal, Friendship would be acquiring the former Morris Brown dorms known as Middleton Towers as well as the gymnasium of the college.
“That gives them a nice complex,” Reed said. A new church likely will be built on the site of the dorms, located on what is now Mitchell Street.
When asked what plans the city has for the Morris Brown property, Reed said: “I don’t have any idea. I just knew I didn’t want the property to fall to whim of a developer, especially an out of state developer, and for the city to not have any ability to control how that property would be developed.”