ATLANTA -- Tuesday morning, Mayor Kasim Reed announced that the city had reached a deal for the Atlanta Falcons to purchase one of two churches sitting on the location called the most desirable for the new Atlanta stadium.
The deal with Friendship Baptist Church would see the Falcons purchasing the facility for $19.5 million. Friendship Baptist is located on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, south of the Georgia Dome. The second church on that site is Mount Vernon Baptist Church, which has been in negotiation with the Georgia World Congress Center Authority.
"I am pleased with the solid progress on the construction of a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons in the heart of our city," said Reed.
"Most important of all, we have kept our promise to treat the members of Friendship Baptist Church with dignity and respect and reach an agreement that is fair and reasonable for all parties. With both the south and north site as possible locations for the new stadium, factors such as transportation, neighborhood impact, and infrastructure needs can be better weighed and balanced."
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Talks with the two churches stalled as an August 1 deadline approached. On July 30, the Atlanta Falcons and the GWCC Authority had announced that the site to the south of the present Georgia Dome was not feasible, since an agreement to acquire all of the land to the south of the Dome was not in place. The Falcons said attention should be shifted to the so-called "north site," on Ivan Allen Boulevard to the north of the World Congress Center.
On August 1, the GWCC told Mt. Vernon it was "abandoning" its effort to purchase the church. The church had asked more than $20 million for its property; the state offered $6.2 million, based on an independent appraisal.
The city and the Falcons have expressed an ongoing preference for the "south site," along Martin Luther King Drive, and very close to both the Georgia World Congress Center and Vine City MARTA stations. The north site lies about a half-mile north of the present Georgia Dome.
Reed said the Georgia World Congress Center is correct to explore the north site, but he believed it was not the best 20- 30-year agreement. He said the city as a whole must come together and work harder.
The future, according to Reed, is to get on a train, go to a game and get back on a train to go home. With the south site, he said, the vision for the city in ten or 20 years can be carried out.
While attention was shifting toward the feasibility of use of the north site, the city continued negotiations with leaders at Friendship Baptist, culminating in the tentative deal announced Tuesday.
Reading details of the proposed deal, called a "Letter of Understanding," it appears that the Falcons are agreeing to pay Friendship Baptist not only the $19.5 million to purchase the property, but also up to $3.8 million more to help the church buy, and build on, a new site.
But Tuesday night Mayor Reed told 11Alive News that that would not be a correct reading of the document, the amount is $19.5 million and no more -- Falcons money, not city money.
Mayor Reed also said the city may help Friendship Baptist buy new property nearby, at low interest rates, and then sell the new property to the church, at cost.
The tentative deal will go into effect if the congregation of Friendship Baptist votes its approval, and if Mount Vernon Baptist across the street reaches its own deal to sell its property.
According to Maria Saporta with 11Alive content partner, the Atlanta Business Chronicle, leaders at Mount Vernon Baptist told members of their congregation that they were holding a "family meeting" on August 13 to talk about their discussions with the GWCC Authority.
Reed said that former mayor Andrew Young should serve as a "conversation facilitator" between Mount Vernon and the city.
"What I see us doing is not replacing those churches, but giving them an opportunity, and hopefully enough money, to re-envision their ministry for the remainder of the 21st Century," said Young.
More than 20 years ago, when Young was Mayor of Atlanta, he held talks with the same two churches who were unhappy to be in the shadow of the Georgia Dome.
"Got cussed out like I don't know what by my friends who were the preachers," said Young.
Ambassador Young said he thinks Mt. Vernon can be convinced to make room for the new stadium.
"I don't think they've been unwilling," said Young. "I think it's hard to get a consensus at a church around anything. We can find a common solution."
Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay was exceedingly happy with the city's efforts to land a deal with Friendship Baptist.
"We commend Mayor Reed, city officials and the congregation of Friendship Baptist Church for all of their hard work in helping us reach a tentative agreement for the acquisition of the church property," McKay said in a statement. "The church property purchase price falls within the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding for the acquisition of property adjacent to the proposed south site for the new stadium. This is certainly a positive development for the south site."
The attorney for Mt. Vernon, Bill Montgomery, told 11 Alive news that he considers the negotiations to still be ongoing. But he said the next move must come from the state.
"The authority applauds the mayor's effort with Friendship," said GWCC director Frank Poe in a statement. "We recognize it was a significant political risk for the mayor. We are certainly welcome to sitting down and having a conversation with him regarding Mt. Vernon Baptist Church."
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)