No deal on churches as stadium deadline arrives


COMPARING THE SITES

North site (Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard at Northside Drive)

Advantages:

  • Larger and already state-owned
  • More flexibility in positioning stadium

  • More potential parking and tail-gating space

Disadvantages:

  • One-half mile hike from MARTA
  • Contaminated soil that would have to be addressed and power lines that would have to be relocated
  • Strong opposition from neighborhood groups that say site is too close to residences

South site (Martin Luther King Jr. and Northside drives)

Advantages:

  • Excellent MARTA access
  • Better connectivity to Georgia World Congress Center
  • Proximity to proposed downtown multi-modal terminal

Disadvantages:

  • Requires purchasing and razing Friendship Baptist and Mount Vernon Baptist churches
  • Requires large infrastructure improvements, including reconfiguring Martin Luther King Jr. Drive
  • Closeness to Georgia Dome would complicate construction

WHAT’S NEXT

Thursday: Self-imposed deadline for stadium planners to reach agreements to acquire Friendship Baptist and Mount Vernon Baptist churches on the preferred stadium site, although the Falcons declared the site "not feasible at this time" Tuesday.

Oct. 1: Deadline for the Falcons to complete a feasibility study of the alternative site a half mile north of the Dome.

Oct. 31: Schematic designs of the stadium are to be completed.

Despite a looming deadline and the Atlanta Falcons beginning a feasibility study on an alternative site, negotiations to buy two churches on a preferred stadium site just south of the Georgia Dome continued late Wednesday without a result.

Friendship Baptist said it remained in negotiations with the city of Atlanta, while the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, which is handling talks with Mount Vernon Baptist, awaited a response to what the GWCCA called its “best and final offer.”

The lack of momentum is critical. Months ago, backers of the $1 billion stadium set Thursday — August 1 — as the deadline to strike a deal with the churches and to determine the feasibility of the preferred south-of-the-Dome site, near the intersection of Northside and Martin Luther King Jr. drives. Otherwise, the plan allowed the focus of the project to shift to a site a half mile north of the Dome at Northside Drive and Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard.

Nothing precludes negotiations with the churches continuing beyond the stadium backers’ self-imposed deadline, and one expert said agreements could still be struck in the coming weeks.

Missing deadlines “in commercial negotiations is not uncommon at all,” said Tim Mescon, an economist and president of Columbus State University. “This kind of nail-biting and drama is very predictable. It inevitably goes down to the wire. There are also (often) moderate extensions of the deadlines.”

The Falcons on Tuesday jumped ahead of Thursday’s deadline, declaring the south site “not feasible at this time” because of the difficulties acquiring the property. The GWCCA board then voted to allow the Falcons to begin a feasibility study of the alternate site. The moves did not immediately stop negotiations with the churches, however.

Lloyd Hawk, chairman of the board of trustees at Friendship Baptist, said the church continued to communicate with the city Wednesday about the proposed sale but that no deal had been struck.

“There are no changes for us,” Hawk said. “We’re still talking.” Tuesday “was a bigger news day than today.”

Mayor Kasim Reed’s office declined comment on stadium negotiations.

The city and the GWCCA have long preferred the south site because of its proximity to MARTA and to a proposed multi-modal passenger terminal. But GWCCA executive director Frank Poe sounded resigned Tuesday to turning the focus to the north site after receiving a letter from the Falcons declaring the other unfeasible.

“It’s disappointing that you’re not seeing that come out as the ultimate solution,” Poe said of the south site. “But it’s the reality of the process, and we recognized in the whole scheme of things that there were two viable sites. Investigating those sites and making critical decisions about them were going to be part of the evaluation process.

“I think we also have to recognize you reach a point where you’ve got to turn your attention to where things are guiding you. We negotiated these” considerations as part of the memorandum of understanding with the Falcons. “We have to stay consistent with what the MOU defines as the schedule.”

The MOU set the Aug. 1 deadline for the Falcons to determine if the south site was feasible and, if not, to begin a study of the north site. That study must be completed by Oct. 1, according to the agreement.

Poe was not, however, completely shutting the door on the south site.

“I’m not going to speculate what may revive or not revive it,” he said.