Atlanta city officials have found the private funds needed to purchase Mount Vernon Baptist Church, potentially clearing the last obstacle to building the new Atlanta Falcons stadium on Martin Luther King and Northside Drives, a source close to the negotiations confirmed Wednesday.
A negotiated price of $14.5 million is tentative. The Mount Vernon congregation, one of two historic black churches that must be relocated if the $1 billion stadium is to be constructed at the site, has yet to vote on the proposal. Church leaders, who have remained quiet during the negotiations, could not be reached Wednesday.
Talks broke down between the the state and the church in late July after Mount Vernon rejected the state’s $6.2 million offer — the highest officials say they can pay according to a state law that limits them from going higher than appraised value.
At that time, the church asked for $20.4 million, a price that later dropped to $15.5 million, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said in an August press conference. The offer now on the table drops the asking price again. It does not involve city funds or city property, according to the source familiar with the talks.
City of Atlanta Chief Operating Officer Duriya Farooqui, who has led most of the negotiations with Mount Vernon and Friendship Baptist Church, told the Atlanta City Council’s finance committee Wednesday that the city was optimistic about the south site. City officials met with Mount Vernon leaders Tuesday.
“The site has not been finalized, but we feel good about the progress we’re making on the south site and are close to crossing certain milestones,” Farooqui said.
Farooqui later said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “it is clear there is a solution that involves private funds supplementing the offer already made to Mount Vernon Baptist Church,” but declined to elaborate on whether a private donor has stepped forward or what other options are on the table.
She said none of the current options is expected to involve further legislation.
Earlier this week, Reed — the biggest proponent of building the stadium on the Martin Luther King Drive site, just south of the Georgia Dome — dropped hints in a television interview that private money had materialized, without specifying the source or amount.
Falcons officials have refused to answer questions this week about the latest turns in negotiations with Mount Vernon. Asked if the team is the source of the additional private funds that Reed said had materialized, Kim Shreckengost, executive vice president of Falcons parent company AMB Group, said Tuesday: “I couldn’t comment on that.”
“We’re going to continue to decline interviews until feasibilities (feasibility studies) are completed and a final site is determined,” Shreckengost said in an e-mail Wednesday.
Reed and many city officials have long preferred the south site for its proximity to two MARTA stations, a future multi-modal passenger station and the short distance to downtown venues. To that end, they reached anagreement on behalf of the Falcons to purchase Friendship Baptist Church for $19.5 million in early August, a plan contingent on a deal with the second church.
Without a resolution soon, the retractable roof stadium likely would be built on land a half mile north of the current Georgia Dome, which ultimately will be demolished.
The Falcons have until Oct. 1 to complete the feasibility study on the site near Northside Drive and Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard.
If the team and the GWCCA have not agreed on a site by then, either party has the right to terminate the stadium agreement signed in April. The beginning of October is also when the Falcons, the GWCCA and Atlanta officials are scheduled to sign more definitive transaction documents, which require an agreement on the site.
The Falcons originally favored the north location, but then sided with the state and city in naming the south site the “preferred” location. They declared the south site “not feasible” in late July because the needed property hadn’t been acquired.
A key advantage the Falcons have attributed to the north spot is that its larger size would allow more flexibility to position the stadium ideally. Among the challenges, however, is that they would have to relocate overhead power lines — with a cost estimated in the millions.
While the focus of negotiations has been the churches’ property, the GWCCA has said there also are three other small parcels, owned by different entities, that would need to be acquired to build the stadium on the south site. These would be needed to accommodate the stadium itself or related roadwork. Among the parcels is one that currently holds an advertising billboard.
Oct. 1: This is the deadline for the Falcons to complete their feasibility study of the “north site.” If the Falcons and the GWCCA have not agreed that one site or the other is feasible by this date, then either party has the right to terminate the stadium agreement signed in April. This also is the date by which the Falcons, GWCCA and city of Atlanta are scheduled to sign more definitive transaction documents, which require an agreement on site.
Oct. 31: Deadline for completion of preliminary schematic drawings.
Mid-2014: Construction is scheduled to begin.
March 2017: Construction is scheduled to be completed.