By Maria Saporta
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed held a press briefing late Friday afternoon to announce that Mount Vernon Baptist Church would sell its property for $15.5 million instead of the $20.3 million that it has been asking.
The Georgia World Congress Center has said that the most it could offer, because of state law regarding the acquisition of property, is $6.2 million.
Mount Vernon is one of two churches that would need to be acquired for the new Atlanta Falcons stadium to be built on the site south of the Georgia Dome.
“The gap has gone from about $14 million to about $8 million,” Reed said at the press briefing in his office. “I hope that’s enough progress for people to stay at the table.”
Reed has been pushing for the new stadium to be located on the south site because he believes it is a much better option for the city. It is located between two MARTA stations, and it is adjacent to the GWCC convention center.
But the clock is ticking on the south site. The Atlanta Falcons already have declared that the south site is not feasible because several properties had not been acquired by the Aug. 1 deadline.
Instead, the Atlanta Falcons and the GWCC Authority have decided to focus their efforts on the north site, which is about a half-mile away at the corner of Northside Drive and Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard.
The mayor, however, has refused to give up on the south site.
About five days after the Aug. 1 deadline, he announced that he had reached a $19.5 million deal with Friendship Baptist Church. Details of that agreement are still being worked out, and it is not sure when it will be brought to a vote before the Friendship congregation.
The mayor, however, acknowledged on Friday the urgency of getting the deals done in the next five to 10 days.
Reed said he expected to have “a number of conversations” over the weekend and over the next five to 10 days.
“I think we’ve got a short amount of time to go,” Reed said. “We are going to push hard in the next five to 10 days. We are either going to get this done or not.”
The mayor said that when he spoke to Rev. Rodney K. Turner of Mount Vernon Friday afternoon and heard that he was willing to sell for $15.5 million, he thought it was “enough progress to share.”
But Reed said he did not have authorization from the GWCCA to do a deal with Mount Vernon. Reed and GWCCA officials were supposed to have met this week to talk about Mount Vernon, but that meeting never took place.
Asked whether he had secured private funding to make up the gap between the $6.2 million that the state legally could pay Mount Vernon and the $15.5 million that the church was asking, Reed said he had not. But he added that it is easier to close an $8 million gap than it is a $14 million gap.
“Regarding the last $8 million, I’m working on it,” the mayor said, adding that he’s also looking for city-owned land in Vine City or English Avenue for Mount Vernon. “I think I have a solve on it, on where we are going.”
Asked whether a natural candidate would be Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons, Reed said: “I haven’t had a conversation with Arthur about this because if we couldn’t change the tone, we weren’t going anywhere.”
Reed and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young met with members of Mount Vernon’s congregation at a family meeting Tuesday night. Reed credited Young for helping change the tone of the conversation with Mount Vernon.
“I want to make sure Friendship feels respected and make sure that Mount Vernon feels respected,” Reed said. “I know they feel good because the ($15.5 million offer) was a significant move.”
Reed said that both he and Duriya Farooqui, the city’s chief operating officer, would be working on this over the next couple of weeks.
Farooqui, however is planning to join Gov. Nathan Deal on a trade mission to China from Aug. 22 to Aug. 30. But it is possible she’ll be negotiating while she’s on the trip. Frank Poe, GWCCA’s executive director, also will be on the trade mission to China.
“I’m hoping that when the trade mission is over, we’ll have some results,” Reed said.