Two black churches expected to vote on stadium deal within next 10 days

By Maria Saporta

The two black churches standing on the preferred site of the new Atlanta Falcons stadium are expected to vote in the next 10 days on whether to accept offers to sell their properties.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced on Aug. 6 that he had reached a $19.5 million deal with Friendship Baptist Church, but the church’s boards of deacons and trustees have not yet voted to approve the offer partly because of vacations and holidays.

But those boards are expected to vote in the coming week, according to Lloyd Hawk, chairman of the board of trustees. Then the recommendation would go to the full congregation.

“We know that for scheduling reasons we won’t be able to vote on it this Sunday,” Hawk said. “But I’m shooting for us to have a vote the following Sunday (Sept. 22). We certainly want to have the vote before the end of the month.”

Hawk did not want to predict how the congregation would vote, but he said he wasn’t expecting any surprises.

Across the street, Mount Vernon Baptist Church and Mayor Reed have continued their negotiations. Earlier the talks between the Georgia World Congress Center and Mount Vernon had broken down when GWCC’s best and final offer was $6.2 million (its legal limit), but Mount Vernon was asking for $20.3 million.

Reed held a press conference on Aug. 16 announcing that Mount Vernon had lowered its asking price to $15.5 million. On Wednesday, news outlets were quoting anonymous sources saying that Mount Vernon has now lowered its price to $14.5 million.

Also, Reed has said that he has been able to secure private dollars to fill the gap between the $6.2 million that the state can offer and the negotiated deal with Mount Vernon. Reed, however, did not disclose where those private dollars would come from.

But it is known that Reed had a private meeting with Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank at the end of last week. In a public presentation of the proposed stadium on Aug. 28, Blank did hint that there might be additional dollars in the $1 billion stadium to shift to property acquisition.

Although Reed has been quite forceful in advocating for the south site, Blank also has said that he prefers the south side — if it were to be a viable alternative. But Blank also has said he would be respectful of the churches and would not force them to move.

The south site sits between two MARTA stations, and it is located next to the GWCC campus. The development of the stadium also could be integrated with development plans for the proposed multimodal station to the east and the Vine City and English Avenue communities to the west, and the Castleberry neighborhood to the south.

According to a meeting notice sent out to its members, Mount Vernon originally had scheduled a vote of its congregation for Saturday, Sept. 14. But now that vote has been pushed back to next week — most likely to Thursday, Sept. 19.

To assist him with his negotiations with Mount Vernon, Reed invited former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and architect Rodney Mims Cook to meet with church leaders. Apparently a tentative offer is on the table for the church to relocate and rebuild on property next to the proposed 16-acre Mims Park in Vine City.

But it is not sure Mount Vernon would relocate and rebuild.

When it appeared that Mount Vernon would only be getting $5 million to $6 million, the speculation was that the church would end up merging with another congregation — probably Antioch Baptist Church — located half a mile away along Northside Drive.

Interestingly enough, the alternative site for the Atlanta Falcons stadium is the north site, located on the corner of Northside Drive and Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard —almost across the street from Antioch.

Mount Vernon’s pastor, Rev. Rodney Turner, served as an associate pastor at Antioch Baptist Church before he assumed his current post.

On the same day that Friendship Baptist Church will likely vote on whether to accept the $19.5 million offer— Sept. 22, Turner will celebrate his 10th Pastoral Anniversary at Mount Vernon. And the special guest at the celebration will be Rev. Cameron Alexander, the senior pastor at Antioch — the patriarch there for 44 years.

What is not known is whether the $14.5 million deal that the city has negotiated with Mount Vernon is contingent on the church rebuilding a physical home. It is unclear if Mount Vernon would still get that windfall if it did decide to go out of business by joining another congregation.

No matter what, time is of the essence.

The Atlanta Falcons had set Aug. 1 as the deadline to determine whether the south site was a viable option. Because neither of the churches had been acquired, the Falcons announced that they were turning their attention to the north site by doing due diligence on the location..

The agreement between the Falcons and GWCC Authority stipulates that by Oct. 1, the two parties would decide whether the north site was viable. Theoretically, the Falcons and GWCCA would still have the option to reconsider the south site if an agreement had been reached with the churches.

If  the two churches agree in the next 10 days to being bought out, the GWCC Authority would still need to acquire six small parcels to get all the land that’s needed to build on the south site. But the state would be willing to use its power of eminent domain to acquire those other parcels if an agreement can not be reached with those property owners.

The mayor also is thought to be keeping his eye on the political calendar. Reed, who is running for re-election, would love to be able to point to the stadium deal being done before the election on Nov. 5.

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.

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