With negotiations between the city and Friendship Baptist Church at a standstill, Mayor Kasim Reed is trying a new tack in efforts to secure land for the new Falcons stadium: leaving the historic church just where it is.
Reed said Wednesday his administration has found a way to build the new $1 billion Falcons stadium without forcing the 151-year-old church to move. Instead of spending the $15.5 million the city recently offered to Friendship for relocation, they can apply the funds toward re-routing Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, accommodating construction while leaving the religious institution in place.
There’s just one problem, of course: That move would leave Friendship Baptist in the shadows of the behemoth new stadium, proposed to be 1.8 million square feet, which would make it larger than the Georgia Dome.
“I don’t believe it’s best that you build a structure as large as the stadium that close to Friendship,” Reed said Wednesday, touching on the David versus Goliath difference in structural size.
And that’s why he hopes the city can still reach a deal with the church, he said.
It’s the latest step in ongoing negotiations between city officials and Friendship Baptist. In recent weeks the city offered Friendship $13.5 million for its property located at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. and Northside drives.
Atlanta officials said the church countered with $24.5 million, a figure Reed called “untenable” and more than any city in Georgia has paid to acquire a church. His administration responded with a $15.5 million offer.
Lloyd Hawk, chairman of the board of trustees at Friendship Baptist Church, said the church’s asking price – which he declined to disclose – takes into consideration a number of things: market value, the cost of finding new property on which to build, and church leaders’ desire not to take on debt or dip into savings for a new facility.
Friendship sought to have a mediator act as a third party in the negotiations, but the city rejected the idea, saying that it preferred to continue talking one-on-one, Hawk said. The church has since dropped the third-party suggestion.
“Our position is we still want to negotiate, but we won’t do it in public,” Hawk said.
Friendship is one of two churches sitting on sites proposed for the stadium. To secure the King-Northside drives site, Mount Vernon Baptist, which sits on the property where the retractable roof stadium would be built, also would have to move. The Georgia World Congress Center Authority is in talks with Mount Vernon, but has declined to report its progress.
If a deal is not reached with the churches by Aug. 1, the stadium will be built near the intersection of Northside Drive and Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard, approximately one-half mile north of the Dome.
“The bottom line is, this is coming to a close, one way or another,” said Reed, who expects a decision on the church acquisitions to be made soon. “We’re not going to continue to invest energy and time when I don’t have to.”
Should the stadium be built with the church at its feet, flooding the area with Falcons fans each football Sunday, Hawk said the institution will make the best of it.
“We have had the (Georgia) Dome in the community for 21 years and have gotten used to the traffic and the tailgating,” he said. “We might have to plant some new trees, but that’s about it.”