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Football Team Decides Churches Want Too Much Money for Stadium Shift

(UPDATED) Church cooperation leads to uncertainty over new Falcons stadium’s location.
Football Team Decides Churches Want Too Much Money for Stadium ShiftKen Lund/Flickr
Georgia Dome

Update (Aug. 13): Less than a week after the Georgia World Congress Center called off negotiations, one of the two churches agreed to sell its land to make room for a new Falcons stadium.

The Atlanta Falcons reached a tentative $19.5 million deal to purchase the property of Friendship Baptist Church, a move announced by Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed but financed by the Falcons.

"We commend the Mayor, city officials and the congregation of Friendship Baptist Church for all of their hard work in reaching a tentative agreement for the acquisition of the church property," the Falcons said in a statement on the deal. "This is certainly a positive development for the south site; however, other significant issues and requirements remain unresolved on that site."

Namely, those "unresolved" issues include the fact that talks remain closed with Mount Vernon Baptist Church, which rejected the city's $6.2 million offer and countered with a request for over $20 million. Mount Vernon's property is "arguably the more crucial piece to the south site location," according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But while Reed has urged city officials to resume negotiations with the church, Mount Vernon's attorney, Bill Montgomery, told Bloomberg Businessweek that as of Tuesday, no contact had been initiated.

"I'm sure my client would be willing to entertain any overtures the authority would make," Montgomery told Bloomberg.

The Atlanta Business Chronicle reports that stadium discussions for both potential sites—one that would include the church land and one that would not—are continuing this week.

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Update (Aug. 5): The Atlanta Falcons' new stadium will no longer be built on a site currently occupied by two historic churches.

The football team's inability to obtain the churches' land and complete required tests by an August 1 deadline meant that the proposed south location for a new stadium was "not feasible at this time," according to a statement released last week. The project will now focus on exploring the feasibility of a proposed site north of both the churches and the Falcons' current stadium. (The northern site was originally preferred by the Falcons.)

The state agency that operates the Falcons' current Georgia Dome has also notified Mount Vernon Baptist Church, one of the two churches, that possible land deals are no longer possible. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority informed Mount Vernon that the agency would be "officially terminating negotiations" with the churches. The church had rejected the agency's proposal of $6.2 million for the church's land.

Yet a leader from the other church declared that negotiations were going well and a deal "really depends on the Falcons at this point." Lloyd Hawk, chairman of the board of trustees at historic Friendship Baptist Church, stated, "From our standpoint, we are really close…. We are trying to be as helpful as possible."

The proposed northern site faces challenges of its own, such as contaminated soil, distance from public transit, and opposition from neighboring residents.

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[Originally published as "Historic Churches Asked To Relocate for New Football Stadium"]

Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta is the Georgia capital's oldest Black Baptist congregation, and one of the most influential churches in the South.

Unfortunately, though, 151 years of history aren't stopping Atlanta from requesting that the church relocate–in order to make way for a new football stadium.

Atlanta's mayor, Kasim Reed, is up for re-election this fall, so he says building a new stadium for the Falcons is a priority. He wants the land currently owned by Friendship Baptist, as well as Mount Vernon Baptist Church, and the city has offered "about $10 million, or about 10 times the appraised market value of the church and its land," NBC reports.

Mount Vernon leaders have declined to discuss the state of any negotiations. And in spite of some parishioners who say the church shouldn't have to move, leaders for Friendship Baptist say they're open to negotiations. Their main condition is that the city help the church relocate within the neighborhood where it has been since 1880, and not into the suburbs.

The New York Times also reports that "church members have to agree [to the move]. After a recent service, many said they were resigned to the fact that the church would move. A church, they said, is made up of its people and not a building."

Reed has said he isn't forcing the churches off their land and that there is an alternative site nearby if they decide not to move.

"I'm going to use all of my power as mayor to make sure that Friendship Baptist Church locates just a short distance from where we are today," Reed told NBC. "And they will be a stronger church, a stronger organization that is much more capable because of the millions of dollars that we are going to pay for that church."

Posted:May 8, 2013 at 11:07AM
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Football Team Decides Churches Want Too Much Money for Stadium ...