Mount Vernon members mum on whether to accept offer for new stadium site

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Mount Vernon members mum on whether to accept offer for new stadium site

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CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM
Falcons tailgators Dave Clark (from left), Jonesboro, Pat Blakenship, Villa Rica, and Larry Rinicella, McDonough, raise their Falcons flag beside the Mt. Vernon Baptist Church on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013, in Atlanta. The group has been renting tailgating space on the church grounds for years. On Thursday, the congregation will vote on whether to accept an offer for the church and move to make room for the new Falcons stadium.

If God is speaking to the congregation at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church on whether to accept $14.5 million offer, the members and the ministers are keeping his confidence.

But on Sunday, the Rev. Rodney Turner told the relatively small but cheerful gathering of congregants not to miss the meeting Thursday to discuss and then vote on whether the church will sell to make way for a $1-billion Falcon’s stadium.

“Don’t let anyone keep you from your spiritual responsibility to be here Thursday,” Turner warned about 100 worshipers. “Be there. Something important is taking place….A heavy decision, an important decision. It could be life changing.”

The members will vote Thursday whether to accept the $14.5 million compromise announced by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and pull up stakes to make way for performances of the Dirty Bird under a retractable roof.

Mount Vernon and neighboring Friendship Baptist Church are the key to whether the Falcon’s new stadium is built on the south side of the existing Georgia Dome — the site favored by city officials for its access to MARTA and its proximity to downtown — or whether it will be built on the north side in a deal involving public and private money.

Friendship Baptist’s leaders agreed to a $19.5 million price more than a month ago but Mt Vernon rejected a $6.2 million offer, which the state said was highest it could offer based on the appraisal. The Falcons sweetened the offer to bring it to $14.5, which Mount Vernon leaders tentatively agreed to after exhaustive negotiations.

Now the membership of the Baptist churches have to approve the sales, with the vote at Mount Vernon this Thursday coming first. Friendship, which delayed the vote nearly a month ago, is expected to have the vote before this month’s end.

Most Mt. Vernon members declined to give an opinion on the proposed sale when asked by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Sunday although some comments did suggest the south-side location may be blessed. “We’re excited about what the Lord is doing for us,” said Kelvin Ellis, a member who was working security Sunday.

Turner told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he thought Mount Vernon members were “unified” but the direction of that unity was still in the hands of the Most High. The pastor declined to say if he had any indication — spiritual or otherwise —on how the vote would go.

His sermon provided few clues for the outsider of his thinking although it did reference a “blessing coming” and warned listeners not to be confused by an anonymous letter that had been delivered to some congregants that apparently cast some aspersions about the proposed deal. “If you get a letter … throw it in the garbage can as soon as you can,” Turner said.

He did ask one of the newest additions to church family, a baby named Wyatt, who was being dedicated at the pulpit Sunday, to share any views on the impending decision, bringing a moment of jocular relief to what appears to have been a stressful period for the congregation.

“You might give us some clarity,” Turner said.

Young Wyatt remained mum.

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