Atlanta, Mayor Kasim Reed made clear this week that if he has his way the Atlanta Falcons will soon be playing in a new stadium south of the Georgia Dome.
At a Tuesday press conference at Atlanta City Hall, Reed announced a deal in principle for the city to buy Friendship Baptist Church for $19.5 million in the event that the south site is selected for the new stadium. Reed also emphatically declared his support to continue negotiations with Mount Vernon Baptist Church to make the proposed south site a reality.
“When we’re done we’re gonna have a stadium that I believe is gonna be the best in the world,” he said. “But it needs to be in a place that is sustainable, that is not gonna add traffic and congestion.”
Reed said that no city funds would be used and that the Falcons would finance the full cost of acquiring Friendship Baptist.
That deal has been agreed to in principle, but both Reed and Lloyd Hawk, Chairman of the Board of Trustees for Friendship, admitted that the sale still had one major hurdle to overcome – getting a majority yes vote from Friendship’s 400-member congregation.
“We’re happy to be at this milestone but we also understand that for our church, the congregation must have the chance to discuss this and make their opinions heard and then make the final decision,” Hawk said. “I think any time you do a situation like this you’re gonna have opinions on the entire spectrum of those for and against. But we believe that we would not have come together [on] this point if we did not have a proposal that the church is gonna be able to embrace and move forward with.”
Friendship and Mount Vernon are both located in the area of the proposed south site for the stadium, which is at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Northside Drive. Reed said that he has continued to push for the south site because of its proximity to two MARTA stations and the Georgia World Congress Center.
“I wanted everybody to know where I stand in no uncertain terms,” Reed said. “I think I’ve done enough in this process to ask that they try harder, because that’s what folks asked me to do.”
So far only the Georgia World Congress Center has been in talks with Mount Vernon, but Reed said he would begin speaking to the church’s pastor soon and that had enlisted the help of former Atlanta Mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young “as a person that facilitates the conversation” between Mount Vernon and the GWCC.
The south site was thought to be “not feasible” as recently as last week when representatives from the Atlanta Falcons and the two churches were unable to come to an agreement. But after securing a deal with Friendship on Sunday night, Reed was adamant that all sides continue discussions even though the Aug. 1 deadline set by the team had come and gone.
“I have taken as many scars and hits and bruises as anyone in this process and for us to impose an artificial deadline when a significant part of this transaction has been closed – the [Friendship agreement] – I don’t think makes sense,” Reed said. “We can walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Atlanta City Councilman H. Lamar Willis, who was one of the majority yes votes in the Council’s 11-5 decision to approve the stadium, said that he was confident Reed, the GWCC and the Falcons could broker a deal. He suggested that options such as finding additional revenue sources were not off the table.
“I don’t know how deep we’re gonna have to go to get Mount Vernon to be a part of this deal,” said Willis. “What I do know is if it means digging a little deeper and working a little harder that the mayor will do that…If it means going into another pot of money to make it happen, I think you heard from the mayor that he believes the check needs to be written.”