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The Price Is Right?: City leaders weigh pros, cons of $1 billion stadium project

By A. Scott Walton Executive Editor | 8/9/2013, 6 a.m.
Mayor Kasim Reed formally announced Tuesday that the city’s facilitation of an agreement between the Atlanta Falcons and Friendship Baptist Church has successfully ended. The church board accepted a $19.5 million offer to sell its property in the event that the south site is selected for the new Atlanta Falcons stadium. No city funds would be used to close this transaction; the Falcons would finance the cost of acquiring the property. (Photo by T.X.T Jahannes).

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Friendship Baptist Church

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed stood before what he considers a local press corps that’s adversarial Tuesday at City Hall and diffused the tension in an alcove outside his office with humor.

The space filled to standing-room-only capacity with reporters and city employees erupted in nervous laughter when Reed quipped that he’d called the press conference to announce “the results of Atlanta’s summer reading program”.

But the mood quickly grew more somber and serious when the mayor followed up by saying that, lately, “I hadn’t had an opportunity to have a conversation with you about where we are regarding the stadium situation.”

No one applauded when Reed announced that he’d just brokered a deal on behalf of the Atlanta Falcons to purchase the property owned by Friendship Baptist Church for $19.5 million, and partially pave the way for a new $1 billion stadium to be built just south of the Georgia Dome. For an awkward pause, people sat and stood: forming questions and anticipating answers about the sale negotiations that had sputtered and stalled for two months.

A proverbial ‘elephant in the room’ loomed large because, unless the Georgia World Congress Center Authority succeeds in purchasing the other crucial parcel of land needed for the preferred new stadium site – property owned by Mount Vernon Baptist Church on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard – the deal to purchase Friendship Baptist is moot.

The GWCC says it has made its “best and final offer” of $6.2 million to purchase Mount Vernon, and the church has unabashedly rejected it. Now the Falcons, with the GWCC’s blessings, have begun “due diligence” analysis of a site north of the Georgia Dome – where public transit is less accessible and infrastructure concerns are high – as an alternative.

Reed struggled to maintain his composure during the press conference. At times he cracked awkward jokes. At times he pounded his podium for emphasis. At times he bit his lower lip as if to refrain from stating his true feelings about his struggles championing a cause that’s been percolating for two years.

“When things got hard, I didn’t quit,” said Reed, who was able to push a conditional vote to build the proposed new stadium with an estimated investment of $200 million in tax revenues through the City Council in a truncated period of six weeks. “I’ve taken as many scars and bruises through this process as anybody.”

Reed strongly insinuated that the very notion of building a new Falcons stadium on the expansive, state-owned plot of land at the intersection of Ivan Allen, Jr. Boulevard and Northside Drive was fiscal folly due to the crippling cost of uprooting and transplanting Georgia Power grids, addressing concerns about toxic soil on the site, adding to the area’s auto gridlock and creating commuter/conventioneer inconveniences that would be eased by the proposed site south of the Dome, which is served by two pedestrian-friendly MARTA stations.

And he fervently urged the GWCC directors and the decision-makers at Mount Vernon to go back to the bargaining table; to the point of offering his own services, and those of former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young in the reconciliation process.