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Negotiations Between Falcons, City and Churches Miss Deadline

By A. Scott Walton Executive Editor | 8/2/2013, 3:45 p.m.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank has remained mostly silent during the negotiations. But, according to an ESPN report, Blank expressed no distinct preference for either the south or north sites during a pre-training camp interview, saying, “they both work for us.”

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Rev. Emmanuel McCall, Friendship Baptist interim pastor

As today’s edition of the Atlanta Voice went to press, speculation over the Atlanta Falcons’ quest to build a new stadium downtown by 2017 was still running rampant.

The hometown NFL franchise issued a statement earlier this week stating that it no longer appears “feasible” to locate its proposed, state-of-the-art facility on the parcels of land currently occupied by historic Friendship Baptist Church and Mount Vernon Baptist Church, which are situated just south of the Georgia Dome and the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC).

In response to the Falcons’ feasibility declaration, directors of the GWCC granted the team permission to begin due diligence work and explore the option of building a new stadium about a half-mile north of the Dome. The so-called “north site” has its fair share of detractors because, among other things, it is not as convenient to MARTA rail stations as the “south site” occupied by the churches.

In order to move ahead with plans to build on the “south site”, the Falcons had set an August 1 deadline for the City of Atlanta to negotiate the purchase of the Friendship Baptist property and for the GWCC to make a deal to purchase Mount Vernon. Two days prior to reaching that deadline, Falcons President and CEO Rich McKay issued a public letter to GWCC Executive Director Frank Poe stating that the team deemed the “south site” to be “not feasible at this time for a number of reasons”; primarily, failure on the part of the principals involved to seal the deals.

The “north site” property near the Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard and Northside Drive intersection is state-owned, and the Falcons now have until October 1 to determine whether environmental and structural conditions there would make it feasible to construct their new $1 billion stadium, with partial funding from the public.

After issuing the letter to Poe at the GWCC, the team stated on its web site that it planned to make no further comment on the issue.

Mount Vernon has declined numerous, daily requests from The Atlanta Voice to comment on the negotiations and reports that GWCC has already made its final purchase offer to the church without a deal being reached.

Lloyd Hawk, the chairman of Friendship Baptist’s board of trustees, commented on Thursday that: “We are definitely still negotiating. It’s going well. We’re waiting on some communication to come in, and once that’s in we’ll try to meet again today. We’ll definitely be communicating today.”

Hawk added: “I would say we’re very close.”

But when asked how soon a deal could be finalized, he responded: “That I couldn’t tell you. I wish I could.”

And when asked how far, monetarily, the two negotiating sides remained apart, Hawk said: “I won’t say a dollar amount, (but) if you look at the grand scheme of the budget for the stadium project it’s a very very tiny percentage of that.”

Leading up the August 1 deadline, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed made it public that the city had offered the 151-year-old Friendship Baptist, where Rev. Emmanuel McCall serves as interim pastor -- $15.5 million and been turned down. Negotiations continued on the presumption that Friendship Baptist wanted a sum closer to $25 million.

On deadline day, the mayor’s chief spokesperson, Sonji Jacobs, told the Atlanta Voice: “We’re still negotiating. That’s all I’ve got for now.”

Falcons owner Arthur Blank has remained mostly silent during the negotiations. But, according to an ESPN report, Blank expressed no distinct preference for either the south or north sites during a pre-training camp interview, saying, “they both work for us.”

Blank and the Falcons may need to remain flexible: The fact that the “south site” property was not purchased in time to meet the team’s deadline does not necessarily preclude negotiations from continuing; and it may turn out to be the case that building on the “north site” is not feasible for a variety of reasons.

In addition, not all the residents who live and work near the “north site” are ecstatic about the prospect of having construction and event traffic laid at their doorsteps.

The Atlanta Voice will continue monitoring the situation, and provide updates in print and online (www.theatlantavoice.com) as they become available.