By Maria Saporta
Members of Friendship Baptist Church were caught by surprise when Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed told WXIA-TV Thursday about the offers and counter-offers on the possible sale of the church to make way for the new Atlanta Falcons stadium.
“We were surprised that he came out and publicly stated that in the middle of negotiations,” said Lloyd Hawk, chairman of Friendship’s board of trustees, on Friday morning. “The congregation is very confused at this point. It has certainly made the situation at the church a little more complicated.”
Reed told WXIA that the city initially offered $13.5 million for the Friendship and its surrounding property, but Friendship had asked for $24.54 million. “We can’t afford that, so we sent back an offer of $15.5 million,” Reed told WXIA.
Hawk said that Friendship actually has “not received any offer in writing” from the city.
“I’m not going to confirm any numbers,” Hawk said. “It is our policy to not negotiate in the media. But we are still looking forward to sitting down with the mayor, the Atlanta Falcons, the Georgia World Congress Center for further negotiations.”
Hawk said he has extended an invitation for all the parties to sit down in one room together next week to hammer out a possible deal, and he said he is willing to make it an all-day meeting if necessary.
The preferred site for the new $1 billion retractable roof Falcons stadium is just south of the Georgia Dome. But in order for the stadium to be built there, two black churches — Friendship and Mount Vernon Baptist Church — would have to be relocated. Although the footprint of the new stadium would not be on Friendship’s property, Martin Luther King Jr. Drive would have to be reconfigured to make room for the stadium, and the new road would be built over Friendship’s property.
The south site has several advantages including being sandwiched in between two MARTA stations and being directly connected to the existing Georgia World Congress Center convention center.
“We understand the drivers for going to the south site,” Hawk said.
But Friendship also has had its own requirement — namely it has wanted to be sure it could relocate the church to a site in the Vine City community. Hawk has said all along that the church wants to be part of the rebuilding of the communities on the west side of downtown.
“That would definitely have to be part of the negotiations,” Hawk said. “Unfortunately, with all the publicity around the new stadium, the price of land has gone up since we started having discussions with the city.”
At one point, the city had been hoping to acquire the foreclosed Morris Brown property and have Friendship move to a prime piece of land that would have been part of that transaction. But the city’s negotiations to purchase the Morris Brown property from its various stakeholders failed to materialize, and now another party reportedly is in negotiations to acquire that land.
The fact that the city did not get the Morris Brown property may have made the deal to acquire Friendship more complicated.
“If that had come to fruition (the city buying Morris Brown), some of that property might have become an option (for Friendship),” Hawk said.
The city and the Falcons have said if they are unable to work out an arrangement with Friendship and Mount Vernon, then the stadium would be built on an alternative site about a half mile away at the intersection of Northside Drive and Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard.