GWCCA, church $14 million apart when stadium talks stopped


GWCCA, church $14 million apart when stadium talks stopped

Negotiations to build a new Atlanta Falcons stadium on the preferred site just south of the Georgia Dome have ended — at least for now — with the parties more than $14 million apart on the fair price of a church.

Records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show that the Georgia World Congress Center Authority’s “best and final” offer of $6.2 million was not in the ballpark of Mount Vernon Baptist Church’s asking price of $20.375 million for its property.

The GWCCA broke off negotiations with the church Thursday, capping a week of stadium developments that included the Falcons starting a 60-day feasibility study of an alternate, state-owned site a half mile north of the Dome.

Without the Mount Vernon property, the stadium cannot be constructed on the south-of-the-Dome site long preferred by the city of Atlanta and the GWCCA board. Separate, city-led negotiations to purchase another church on the south site, Friendship Baptist, are moot to stadium planners if Mount Vernon cannot be acquired.

While nothing contractually precludes the reopening of negotiations between Mount Vernon and the GWCCA, documents — including e-mails exchanged in the past month between the parties — don’t seem to bode well for the prospects. The documents showed virtually no progress.

The GWCCA, a state agency that operates the Georgia Dome, made an initial offer of $4,827,500 on July 1. Mount Vernon quickly rejected it.

“To say that this proposal is extremely disappointing to my client is a gross understatement,” attorney William Montgomery wrote in a July 2 e-mail to state officials. “The Church views the offered amount as insulting.”

Mount Vernon countered on July 11 with its $20.375 million proposal, which was accompanied by an extensive “cost valuation report” prepared for the church.

The report said that amount would be needed to cover all of the costs associated with relocation, including acquiring land and building anew in the Vine City area. The figure also included $2.73 million to compensate the church for losing the next 25 years worth of revenue from special-events parking on its property. The church currently generates $140,000 per year from parking, according to the report.

On Tuesday morning — about 90 minutes before its board voted to allow the Falcons to begin the north-site feasibility study — the GWCCA sent its $6.2 million offer to Mount Vernon. On Wednesday, the church rejected it. On Thursday, the GWCCA replied that it was “abandoning its efforts” at a deal, saying the last offer had matched the highest appraisal received for the property.

The appraisals proved significant through the negotiations.

In the July 2 email, Montgomery acknowledged he had been told by a senior assistant attorney general that the GWCCA is “constrained by law” from offering more than appraised fair-market value for land.

“Unless the Authority is prepared to obtain from private sources sufficient supplemental funds to pay a realistic price for the Church property, I believe further negotiations would not be fruitful,” Montgomery wrote.

The Falcons would be a potential private source, but there is no indication that the team, which recently has expressed neutrality between the two sites, offered to sweeten the offer.

The way the complex stadium deal was structured, the GWCCA was to provide the property on which the facility would sit. On the south site, that would make the GWCCA responsible for purchasing Mount Vernon’s 2.595 acres to go along with land the state already owns.

The stadium deal, though, called for the Falcons to commit up to $20 million to purchase off-site property needed to complete the project. That would include Friendship’s property, which was needed in order to re-route Martin Luther King Jr. Drive on one side of the stadium. Although the Falcons ultimately would pay, the city handled the negotiations with Friendship.

Records have not been released regarding those negotiations, but Mayor Kasim Reed said in June that Friendship had been offered $15.5 million — 150 percent more than the final offer to Mount Vernon.

It is not entirely clear where the years-long stadium saga goes from here. Feasibility work on the north site, including soil tests and analysis of relocating power lines, will proceed. But a number of people connected to the project, including several Atlanta City Council members, expressed hope that negotiations somehow get revived with Mount Vernon to save the south site.

Lloyd Hawk, chairman of Friendship Baptist’s board of trustees, said the church had not heard Friday from city negotiators about the status of the project. He added the church had no plans to reach out to city leaders because it assumed they had a lot to digest after the GWCCA’s termination of talks with Mount Vernon.

“We think it might be best for them to call us,” Hawk said.

Reed’s office declined to comment.

Hawk said Friendship’s negotiations were going well and getting close to a deal earlier in the week. And he remained optimistic that the south site could yet prove viable if leaders from the two churches, community, city, GWCCA and Falcons would “sit down at the table together to see if they can come up with creative solutions to solve the impasse right now.”

Suzanne Bair, president of neighborhood group Marietta Street Artery Association, said the south site remains the better location because of its better access to MARTA and connectivity to downtown. But to move the needle back in that direction will take leadership, she said.

“We are extremely disappointed with the negotiations failing,” said Bair, whose organization represents residents who live closest to the north site. “We would greatly like to see the mayor lead us through this.”

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