Mt. Vernon sets vote on stadium deal

By Stan Washington Senior Writer | 3/29/2013, noon
Members of Mount Vernon Baptist Church are expected to vote next month on whether the church should sell its land ...
Mount Vernon Baptist Church

ATLANTA – Members of Mount Vernon Baptist Church are expected to vote next month on whether the church should sell its land to the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA) to make room for a new $1 billion stadium for the Atlanta Falcons.

More than 100 church members met with GWCCA representatives Tuesday to hear a proposal to relocate the church so the Falcons can used the land for its new stadium, approved last week by the City Council.

No vote was taken at the meeting, one attendee said, and another meeting was to be scheduled in two weeks on whether to accept or reject the proposal.

Mount Vernon and Friendship Baptist Church, both near the current Georgia Dome, sit on the site where Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank wants to build the stadium. Officials have said that offers will be made to buy the land and relocate the churches, but Mayor Kasim Reed is considering a second site farther north if the church memberships reject the offer.

A staffer at Friendship Baptist Church, which sits across the street from Mount Vernon, said church members have yet to receive a proposal.

During the Mount Vernon meeting Tuesday, members expressed mixed reactions to the proposed purchase, said longtime church member James Sellers. He said some members feel pressured by the city’s civic leadership to sell.

“I guess you could said I am an opponent of the church selling,” Sellers said during a telephone interview. “I am in favor of them building on their second site on the north side which is a quarter of a mile away.”

“These churches are the cornerstones of that community and I just don't want to see them move because someone wants a new stadium,” he added.

Sellers pointed out that this would be the second move for the church, the first one being about 55 years ago when the Hunter Street (now M.L. King Jr. Drive) viaduct was built to connect the west side to downtown. Started in 1915, the church sits next door to the Georgia Dome at the corner of M.L. King and Northside Drive.

The Atlanta City Council and the GWCCA recently approved the $1 billion new stadium proposal, which calls for the Falcons to contribute up to $70 million for infrastructure improvements around the stadium and $20 million for land acquisitions. Under the plan, the Arthur Blank Foundation also would contribute $15 million to the surrounding neighborhoods.

If approved by the Invest Atlanta board, an additional $15 million in tax allocations would be designated for the surrounding communities for private sector and philanthropic investments.

The Falcons and the GWCCA also agreed to development an Equal Business Opportunity plan which would ensure at least 31 percent participation by women and minority business firms in the design and construction of the stadium.

Reed said he prefers the first site because it would allow the new stadium to be directly connected to the Vine City MARTA station and the Georgia Dome Philips Arena stadium. But he added that he was not going to pressure the churches to move.

City Councilman Ivory, who has represented the area for 12 years, said he would like to see the stadium built on the first site, but also is against pressuring the churches to relocate.

He views the funds earmarked for the surrounding neighborhoods as the best opportunity for revitalization, especially in the Vine City and English Avenue communities.

But Sellers, whose family owned Sellers Brothers Funeral Home on M. L. King Jr. Drive for years, is skeptical of promises of redevelopment citing the Westside Village on M.L. King as an example.

“At one particular time, that area was a prominent and thriving part of the black business structure,” Sellers said. “All of those businesses that had been there from the 1950s and '60s were moved (before the 1996 Summer Olympic Games) and what was left was mostly vacated land.

“Now some 18 years later, they finally get a Wal-Mart over there.”

Sellers said, however, that if the membership votes to relocate the church, he would accept the decision.