The authority’s board responded by voting to allow the Falcons to begin a feasibility study of an alternate site a half mile north of the Dome.
“This is a serious move,” GWCCA executive director Frank Poe said. “The south site will move off the radar as we go to the north site.”
Yet, the developments do not preclude the possibility that the south-of-the-Dome site, which has been strongly preferred by the city and the state, could quickly come back into play if deals fall into place with the property owners, principally Mount Vernon Baptist Church and Friendship Baptist Church.
In fact, as the Falcons were sending notice to the GWCCA on Tuesday that the site is not feasible, the GWCCA was sending to Mount Vernon Baptist what Poe described as a “best and final offer.” Poe said he had not yet received a response.
Meanwhile, Lloyd Hawk, chairman of Friendship Baptist’s board of trustees, said that he considers his church still in negotiations despite the Falcons’ letter.
“We see the negotiations over the last few days as productive,” Hawk said. “We haven’t gotten to the point where they have said, ‘This is our last and final offer.’”
Hawk said he was told of the Falcons’ plan to declare the south site unfeasible. But, he said, “We were also told, ‘Let’s continue moving forward.’” Asked if that sent a mixed message to the church, he said: “I’ll leave the interpretation duties to everyone else.”
The City of Atlanta has been handling the negotiations with Friendship, while the GWCCA, a state agency that operates the Georgia Dome, has been leading the talks with Mount Vernon. Phone calls to Mount Vernon on Tuesday requesting comment were not returned. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s office also did not comment.
Asked if the decision to focus on the north site could be a bargaining ploy, Poe insisted: “No. No.”
Tuesday’s developments were the latest in three years of twists and turns in the Falcons’ effort to build a new stadium. The team reached agreements earlier this year with the GWCCA and the city for a partially publicly funded stadium on one of two sites – the “preferred” location at the corner of Northside Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive or the “alternative” site at the corner of Northside and Ivan Allen Jr. drives.
Under a memorandum of understanding signed in March, the Falcons have until Aug. 1 – Thursday – to determine if the preferred site is feasible and, if not, to request to examine the alternative site. The team formally exercised that option in Tuesday’s letter from team president Rich McKay to Poe. Otherwise, the Falcons would have remained obligated to the south-of-the-Dome site.
McKay’s letter stated that the Falcons have “determined that development and construction of the (stadium) on the (south site) is not feasible at this time for a number of reasons, including … that the Mount Vernon Baptist Church and the Friendship Baptist Church properties and other necessary parcels have not been acquired and … that (the Falcons have) been unable to complete environmental and other required testing on these properties.”
Suzanne Bair, president of neighborhood group Marietta Street Artery Association, said she was shocked the team deemed the south site unfeasible. She has said the stadium would be as close as 100 feet to 150 residences along Marietta Street if it is built on the north site.
“It is safe to say we’ve been caught off guard by this,” Bair said. “We thought all the entities involved would be able to work out (a south site deal).
“For us, this is a circle-the-wagons moment,” she added. “We’ve got to come together and decide what our next course of action will be.”
Robin Gagnon, vice president of the Castleberry Hill Neighborhood Association, said her community will be impacted by the stadium at either location. She just hopes the project results in positive economic development for her area.
“If the city seizes the opportunity to invest in the stadium and neighborhoods around it, whether it comes from the north or south end won’t make a difference; it will be positive overall,” she said. “My concern is that we’ll fumble the ball and it won’t be the type of catalyst of change that it should be for these downtown neighborhoods.”
Taz Anderson, a member of the GWCCA board, said he expects negotiations with the churches to continue until a final call is made.
“They are going to be the ones that lose (if a deal is not made),” he said of the churches. “This is an opportunity for them to move out of an area that is congested. If I were in the churches’ positions, I would just want to cut a fair deal and get on with it.”
Robert Boland, academic chair of New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management, said the Falcons have good reasons for moving forward with the alternate site but acknowledged their move could be viewed as a tactic to get finality on negotiations with the churches.
“The reason I think the door isn’t completely closed is that walking away is a step in the negotiation process,” Boland said.
Staff writer Katie Leslie contributed to this article.