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Friday, August 16, 2013

Mayor: Mount Vernon Baptist lowers price of church eyed for stadium site

Mayor Kasim Reed today said that the last church left to sell its property to make room for a new Atlanta Falcons stadium that it's lowered its selling price for the land.

Mount Vernon Baptist Church leaders had originally told the Georgia World Congress Center Authority that it'd sell the site for $20.4 million. However, the GWCCA, which says it's prohibited from paying more than the appraised fair-market value for land, said it couldn't pay more than $6.2 million. Bridging an approximate $14 million gap would be difficult.

At a press conference today, Reed said the church's pastor had given the OK to announce that Mount Vernon has lowered its asking price to $15.5 million - a figure that the mayor thinks could bring all sides closer to a possible deal.

"This has gone from being a $14 million problem to being an $8 million problem," Reed said.

Reed declined to discuss specifically how that could be solved but that he "might have a solve." Chief Operating Officer Duriya Farooqui will meet with the church leadership over the weekend and show them what real estate the city has available, signaling that land where the church could move could be part of the package.

The estimated $1 billion stadium would be located on one of two sites. The preferred site is the general area south of the Georgia Dome that would be close to two MARTA rail stations and adjacent to a proposed downtown train terminal. It's also home to Mount Vernon and Friendship Baptist Church. The city recently announced that it and Friendship struck a deal, which must still be approved by the church's congregation, for $19.5 million. The other site is located north of the Georgia World Congress Center along Northside Drive. The Falcons have started conducting due diligence on the site to meet a self-imposed construction schedule.

Reed hopes progress can be made over the next five to 10 days and "either we're going to get this done or not."

The mayor also used the press conference as an opportunity to fire back at "dishonest and deceitful"comments made by state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, and Derrick Boazman, a former Atlanta City Councilman and radio host. The two and other activists have vocally criticized the city over the stadium deal, including what they call a "land grab" at nearby Morris Brown College, the historic black college that is currently in bankruptcy court. Part of the deal between the city and Friendship includes helping the church try to acquire property and relocate at Morris Brown. In a previous statement to 11 Alive, the city called accusations of a land grab "presposterous."

Today, Reed noted his efforts since 2010 to help Morris Brown keep its doors open. Those include agreeing not to shut off the college's water service when they failed to pay their bills, asking the U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to forgive a sizable chunk of the school's debt that involved a federal loan program, and working with the Atlanta City Council to try and support the school during its bankruptcy proceedings. The city also offered a $10 million buyout of the college - which was rejected by its trustees - to help resolve its financial woes.

Reed asked what the two had done in those years to keep the school alive, be it by lobbying for relief or writing letters.

"I never saw Derrick Boazman at the White House," he said. "I never saw Vincent Fort at the White House."

Responded Fort, a former Morris Brown professor, to CL: "When Kasim Reed was currying favor with downtown fat cats running for office to carry their water, I was in the classroom at Morris Brown teaching young black men and young black women preparing them for the future" Fort said. "I'll put my experience at Morris Brown over his any day. My priority is what I think what is best for Atlanta and my constituents and Morris Brown."

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