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Friday, July 26, 2013

Friendship Baptist Church still in talks with city over proposed stadium deal

Friendship Baptist Church

Despite reports this week that officials involved in choosing the new Atlanta Falcons stadium location have turned their attention toward an alternate site, Friendship Baptist Church is still ready to make a deal.

"We are still in talks," the chairman of Friendship's board of trustees, Lloyd Hawk, told Maria Saporta of Saporta Report. "We are not doing anything to hinder the process, and we are working towards a solution with the Falcons and the city."

Saporta Report and the AJC respectively reported on Tuesday that the Georgia World Congress Center Authority's Stadium Development Committee and the Falcons were ready to begin taking a closer look at the north site located on the corner of Northside Drive and Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard due to unsuccessful negotiations to close a deal on the south site, where Friendship Baptist Church and Mt. Vernon Baptist Church sit, by the looming Aug. 1 deadline.

Of course, the south site has been trumpeted by the city as the prime location due its closer proximity to two MARTA stations and a proposed multimodal passenger terminal. Although the Falcons aren't ready to give up on the south site, the decision to begin serious consideration of the north site was "one of prudence," Kim Shreckengost, executive vice president of AMB Group, the Falcons' parent company, told the AJC on Tuesday.

The differing status reports emerging from camps on either side of this potential south site deal one week before the proposed deadline is indicative of a negotiation process that has been highly politicized and publicized from the start.

Mayor Kasim Reed told the media last month that the church turned down an initial offer of $15.5 million and countered with $24.5 million. Hawk responded by stating that Friendship had been caught off-guard by the mayor's public handling of the process and claimed that the church had received no official offer at the time.

The city then responded with a new proposal to build the stadium on the south site without purchasing Friendship's land. Renderings for that proposed version seemed like a threat more than a serious consideration being that the $1 billion stadium and the 124-year-old church building were practically rubbing up against one another.

Later, Hawk and Friendship got the cold shoulder from Reed when requests to negotiate with him directly and/or with a mediator were reportedly turned down by the mayor. But the mayor eventually stopped playing hardball and met with Hawk in what turned out to be a "positive meeting," Hawk told Saporta in early July.

Time now seems like the biggest impediment to a possible deal. With a week left before Aug. 1, everything depends on "how quickly the Falcons will have an acceptable proposal in our hands," the Saporta Report quoted Hawk yesterday. A suitable deal for Friendship would enable the historic African-American church to move to a new site and rebuild in the same neighborhood while expanding certain community programs, Hawk has maintained. While he says the church's trustee and deacon boards could vote on an offer to sell Friendship if received within the next seven days, the entire congregation wouldn't be able to vote until Sun., Aug. 1.

Another indication of the possible outcome might lie in the soil. In addition to the north site being further away from transportation options, it has contaminated soil which would require soil remediation, according to Atlanta Falcons' president Rich McKay. As for the south site, Saporta reported yesterday that Hawk confirmed as they spoke that Falcons' stadium development engineers were outside the church doing "soil tests and geotechnical work," he said. "They are out there right now."

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