ATLANTA -- State officials are expected to meet next week with architectural firms, with an eye on selecting one of them to design a new retractable roof stadium to replace the Georgia Dome.

Once selected, the new architect is expected to submit a blueprint for the new stadium on a site south of the Georgia Dome. Although the site hasn't been officially selected, state and city officials are leaning toward the south site over another site north of the Dome. The south site is closer to a MARTA line.

Last week, the city of Atlanta's economic development agency, Invest Atlanta, approved sale of $200 million in construction bonds for the project, paid by hotel-motel tax revenue. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank will put up $800 million for the billion dollar project. Additional hotel-motel tax money will help the Falcons pay for maintenance of the new stadium.

State officials are in negotiations with a church that now occupies a portion of the south site. Mt. Vernon Baptist Church is at the corner of Northside Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. In March, state officials made a presentation to the church's congregation. Although the two sides have talked broadly about a purchase price, no firm offer has been made yet for the church property.

The city is also expected to make an offer to purchase Friendship Baptist Church, believed to be the city's oldest African American church. Friendship is located across ML King from Mt. Vernon.

State officials want the architect to plan for the south site because it's the preferred site, and the south site has more challenges than the north site. The south site would be wedged onto an area now occupied mostly by Mt. Vernon and the Dome's orange parking lot. ML King Jr. Dr. would have to be re-designed to accommodate the outer edge of the new stadium. The ML King redesign would run through the current property of Friendship Baptist church.

State officials plan to purchase the necessary property by August 1. If they haven't done so, then the stadium plan is expected to shift to the more spacious north site. Mayor Kasim Reed has said that the stadium will not be built on the south site without the full cooperation of the two churches.

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