Friendship Baptist Church wants the city to help it secure property for a new home if it is to agree to relocate to make room for a new downtown football stadium, a leader of the congregation says.
Lloyd Hawk, chairman of the 151-year-old historic church’s board of trustees, said having new property that Friendship can move to is critical to striking a deal for a new facility to replace the Georgia Dome.
“We have to make sure we don’t risk our church and what we mean to the community,” Hawk said.
In addition, he said, Friendship wants to avoid the fate of some churches that once stood in the Lightning community, which were bulldozed for the Dome. He said many of them never rebounded and found a new place to worship.
“We cannot find any of those around today,” he said. “That’s a major concern.”
The city on Thursday revealed it had offered Friendship $13.5 million for the property, which sits at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. and Northside drives, the preferred of two sites for the football facility.
The church countered with $24.54 million, which the city answered with a $15.5 million offer, according Sonji Jacobs Dade, spokeswoman for Mayor Kasim Reed. When asked about the relocation site requirements, Jacobs said, “The negotiations continue.”
Hawk said the church has not received a written offer, but declined to discuss the negotiations further.
The city, state and Atlanta Falcons want to open a new stadium by March 1, 2017. On Tuesday, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, on whose land the project will be built, approved a 1.8 million-square-foot, retractable-roof building with geometric shapes and a glass wall overlooking the city.
To secure the King-Northside drives site, Mount Vernon Baptist also would have to move. The GWCCA is in talks with Mount Vernon, but has not reported on any progress.
If a deal is not reached with the churches by Aug. 1, the building will be constructed near the intersection of Northside and Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard, approximately a one-half mile north of the Dome.
Neil deMause, author of “Field of Schemes,” a book about stadium construction, said neighborhood institutions are often at risk in big stadium projects, especially in areas where the land is cheapest. To make the idea palatable, leaders often say the project will help revitalize the community.
“It happens all the time when a stadium is built in an area that is populated, though I haven’t seen a lot of churches involved,” he said.
Staff writer Katie Leslie contributed to this report.