City of Atlanta proposes moving Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to avoid buying Friendship Baptist Church

By Maria Saporta

The City of Atlanta is beginning to play hardball when it comes to its dealings with Friendship Baptist Church.

Up until now, the city and the Atlanta Falcons have said that it needs Friendship in order to build a new stadium on the site south of the Georgia Dome.

But after months of off-and-on talks between the city and Friendship, a significant gap remains between what the city is willing to offer and how much Friendship would like for the property.

So the city has come up with another idea. Reroute Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to Mitchell Street so that both the stadium and Friendship could be located side-by-side.

Map of how Martin Luther King Jr. Drive could be realigned to make enough room for new stadium and Friendship Baptist Church

Map of how Martin Luther King Jr. Drive could be realigned to make enough room for new stadium and Friendship Baptist Church (click to enlarge)

In a memo from Duriya Farooqui, the city’s chief operating officer, to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, it was clear the city was running out of patience — saying the project is at a “critical stage” and that the design work must be finalized so the project can continue on schedule.

“The negotiation with Friendship church has not yielded a resolution and no further delays can be absorbed into timeline,” Farooqui wrote to the mayor. “The offer made through the City has increased from $10 Million to $15.5 million. The asking price by Friendship Church has meanwhile moved in a direction away from an initial ask of $20 million to a recent proposal as high as $24.5 million. This leaves the gap between the two offers substantially the same since initial offers and no closer to a resolution within the timeframe a location and orientation decision is needed.”

Farooqui went on to say: “The City and the Falcons are now re-evaluating orientation options on the south site that would leave Friendship Church intact. While a move to the North site accomplishes the same objective, the south site feasibility has improved on other dimensions and it continues to be a location that the Falcons and the City support. The attached conceptual plans indicate options under which Friendship Church can remain intact.”

She concluded the memo by recommending that the “City continue to support plans to build a new stadium on the South Site and evaluate the site options attached, which may not necessitate the acquisition and reconstruction of Friendship Church.”

Lloyd Hawk, chairman of Friendship’s board of trustees, said Wednesday evening that the church continues to be open to sit down and negotiate with the city. He also added that the news that the stadium could be built without the acquisition of Friendship does not change how the 150-year-old church will approach the negotiations.

Rich McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons, was asked if the team would consider getting involved in the negotiations with Friendship. He also was asked whether another alternative — to build the stadium on a site a half-mile north of the Georgia Dome along Northside Drive — is still on the table.

“The city is leading the discussions with Friendship, and we don’t want to get in the way of that,” McKay responded in an email. “(The) North site is still an option.”

It does seem as though the clear preference is to build the stadium on the South site, which is between two MARTA stations — the Vine City MARTA station and the Dome/GWCC/Philips Arena/CNN MARTA station.

But even if they can build the new $1 billion stadium with Friendship, the Georgia World Congress Center will need to acquire Mount Vernon Baptist Church, which is located just south of the existing Georgia Dome. The state is handling those negotiations.

The Atlanta Falcons have said that they need to know about whether the South site will work by Aug. 1.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

15 replies
  1. Michael says:

    The Friendship Baptist Church congregation just celebrated its 151 year anniversary, but the building is much younger.  The church has moved twice in its history – once to the corner of Haynes and Markham Streets, and then later to present site on Northside Drive. I believe this final move was in the 1960’s. I would love to see more on the current building’s history.Report

    Reply
    • Chip says:

      @Michael Actually Michael the church has been on that exact site for 134 years, since 1879.  The basement of that building is where Spelman College is founded and Morehouse College held it’s classes when it first moved to Atlanta.Report

      Reply
      • Michael says:

        Thanks for the correction. I’ve also learned that FBC started as the First Colored Baptist Church in a box car near Walton Street in 1862. The church later moved to Luckie Street and then the corner of Haynes and Markham Street. As the congregation grew, they bought the current site on West Mitchell Street and renamed their congregation Friendship Baptist Church.Report

        Reply
  2. JDE1828 says:

    And, once again Castleberry Hill is being totally ignored. What was the purpose of rebuilding the Mitchell Street bridge if it dead ends into Magnum Street? This sketch is another great example of how the City of Atlanta, the Falcons, the World Congress Center and the stadium designers aren’t even considering the effects of the new stadium and it’s location on Castleberry Hill. Unfortunately, the residents of Castleberry Hill aren’t as politically connected as Friendship Baptist and the neighborhoods to the west of Northside.Report

    Reply
    • rickdday says:

      JDE1828 Castleberry Hill is being ignored because you allowed the entrenched entertainment establishments to grandfather themselves in and shut potential new business out. With your strict noise ordinance and fear of black males, you have killed any hope of a night life – a critical tax base source. 
      You are a quirky bedroom neighborhood that does not even have a major grocer. Arguably, K. Hall’s worse piece of legislation was the rezoning of CH.
      Loosen up the stranglehold on the nightlife and you may get a nod. Sports venues are entertainment venues. Embrace the concept by changing your neighborhood leadership.Report

      Reply
  3. putabirdonit says:

    With the church and stadium on the same site, they can share parking facilities.  It’s not as if church and football would be happening on the same day . . waitReport

    Reply
  4. Songbird says:

    The City of Atlanta and the Georgia world Congress Center need to consider moving the stadium to the north and not try to up root African American History. Mt. Vernon and Friendship be still and know that God has all power in his handReport

    Reply
    • moliere says:

      Songbird Unfortunately, this is not about uprooting black history. Friendship has already agreed to sell. The issue is Friendship trying to extort the city for as much as they possibly can, and also Morris Brown’s continued determined detachment from reality. Again, it would be one thing if Friendship had agreed not to sell. They have. The problem is their asking price. The actual market value of the church (land and building) is actually less than $2 million. The city is willing to pay 7 times market value. Friendship Baptist wants more than 12 times market value, are demanding face to face negotiations and won’t even justify their grotesquely unfair asking price. 
      Friendship’s leadership wants you to think that this is about civil rights, black history, religion and tradition but they are just exploiting those things to extract as much money out of this as they possibly can, claiming that they want to use the money that they get out of this deal to help “the community” but in reality it is nothing but a shakedown. If they keep acting like this, I hope that the city just moves on and they get nothing.Report

      Reply
  5. essay says:

    This sketch is another outstanding example of how the City of The the atlanta position area, the Falcons, the World The legislature Center and the floor designers aren’t even considering the repercussions of the new floor and it’s position on Castleberry Hill it would be one aspect if Connection had made the decision not to provide. They have. The problem is their asking price He also involved that the details that the floor could be developed without the getting Connection does not change how the 150-year-old church will technique the conversations.Report

    Reply

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