Invest Atlanta approves purchase of Morris Brown College

Staff writer Nicholas Fouriezos contributed to this report.

Atlanta’s economic development agency voted Thursday to move forward with purchasing Morris Brown College, a day after a bankruptcy judge gave the school the green light to sell.

Invest Atlanta and Friendship Baptist Church are jointly purchasing the 37-acre historic campus for $14.6 million, with $10.6 million in city funds from the Westside tax allocation district.

Friendship Baptist is one of two churches that sold last year to make way for the future $1.3 billion Atlanta Falcons stadium just steps from the Morris Brown property.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said that under the deal, Morris Brown will retain control of a few historic buildings for educational purposes, the church will receive two housing towers, the school’s gymnasium and two parking lots and Atlanta will own the majority of the campus, including its football stadium.

Reed said Wednesday that having control of the campus is critical to the development happening in the English Avenue and Vine City communities.

“I want to make sure it is in the hands of the city so that we have public input and involvement as we develop that important parcel about 300 to 400 yards away from a $1.3 billion investment in the new Falcons stadium,” Reed said.

Clark Atlanta University, which once owned about 17 acres of the campus, has challenged the sale. The university has claimed a decades-old agreement between the schools requires that any land not used for educational purposes be returned to Clark Atlanta.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Barbara Ellis-Monro said Clark Atlanta would need to settle that issue in state court.

Morris Brown filed for bankruptcy in 2012 with about $30 million in debt. The vast majority of that debt was to the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which is still owed $18.6 million.

The AME Church initially objected to the sale, requesting time to examine whether the payout would be enough for Morris Brown to pay back its debts. It ultimately withdrew that complaint.

The college rejected a $10 million offer from Atlanta last year, but revived talks over a sale in recent months.