GWCCA breaks off negotiations with church on stadium site

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GWCCA breaks off negotiations with church on stadium site

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority walked away Thursday from its several-months-long attempt to acquire one of the two churches on the preferred site of the new Atlanta Falcons stadium.

In a letter obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution under an open-records request, the GWCCA informed Mount Vernon Baptist Church that it is “officially terminating negotiations” and “abandoning its efforts” to purchase the church’s property.

The action came after the church “unanimously rejected” the GWCCA’s “best and final offer” of $6.2 million, according to the letter and other documents.

Without Mount Vernon’s property, the stadium cannot be built on the site just south of the Georgia Dome long favored by the city and the GWCCA, a state agency that operates the Dome. The Falcons this week began a feasibility study of an alternate site a half-mile north of the Dome at the corner of Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard and Northside Drive.

Nothing contractually precludes the possibility of renewed talks at some point between stadium planners and Mount Vernon officials, although documents reflect a wide gap in their negotiations.

The church’s most recent asking price is not clear from the documents, but a report sent to the GWCCA by the church’s attorney on July 10 — obtained by the AJC — suggested numbers far above $6.2 million.

“While the land value alone of the church property in the New Stadium Project context is arguably within an $11 million-$14 million range, that amount would not make MVBC whole or enable a relocation to take place on meaningful terms,” the church’s report stated.

The report went on to itemize “total project costs” of relocation and other expenses, including lost revenue from parking at the current building, of $20.37 million.

The GWCCA said in its letter ending negotiations that its $6.2 million offer was “based on the highest appraised value received by the authority” for the church’s property.

Separate from the negotiations with Mount Vernon, the city has been in talks with another church, Friendship Baptist, whose property also would need to be acquired to build on the south-of-the-Dome site.

Lloyd Hawk, chairman of Friendship’s board of trustees, said Thursday that he thought his church was “really close” to a deal. However, without Mount Vernon, there would be no reason for stadium planners to purchase Friendship.

“It has definitely been a long process and at times frustrating,” Hawk said. “But we are a stronger church because of it than we were six months ago.”

Thursday’s development represented the latest turn in the Falcons’ several-years-long effort to build a new stadium to replace the Georgia Dome.

In March, the team, the city and the GWCCA agreed on a complex deal to build a stadium partially funded by Atlanta hotel-motel taxes on one of two sites: the “preferred” location at the corner of Northside and Martin Luther King Jr. drives, or the “alternative” site north of the Dome.

The agreement gave stadium planners until Thursday — Aug. 1 — to acquire the two churches on the preferred site and to confirm the feasibility of building on that location. If that did not happen, the agreement allowed for the focus to shift to the alternate site a half mile away.

On Tuesday, the Falcons exercised that option, sending a letter to the GWCCA that called the preferred site “not feasible at this time” because the property had not been acquired. Within hours of receiving the letter, the GWCCA’s board voted to allow the Falcons to begin a 60-day feasibility study, including soil testing, of the alternate site.

The city handled the negotiations with Friendship Baptist, and the GWCCA dealt with Mount Vernon Baptist. Under the March agreement, the Falcons were to to be responsible for paying for the acquisition of Friendship and state money was to be used to buy Mount Vernon.

At one point, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said Friendship sought $24.5 million and had been offered $15.5 million.

The plan is for the stadium to open in 2017. Construction is scheduled to begin in mid-2014.

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