Eminent domain in play for Falcons stadium property

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The Falcons have released animations and new renderings showing the plans for the new downtown Atlanta stadium.

A state agency began the process Friday of using eminent domain to acquire a small piece of property in the way of the new Atlanta Falcons stadium.

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority posted notice of a public meeting regarding its intention to request that the state use the controversial power to obtain the property, currently a gravel parking lot near the Georgia Dome.

The property owners’ attorney, Charles Pursley, said the state and his clients are many millions of dollars apart on the value of the land but that the eminent-domain process would allow for the dispute to be litigated without delaying construction of the stadium.

Ground-breaking is planned for next spring. The stadium’s schematic design has been completed and will be presented to the GWCCA board Tuesday.

The GWCCA, which operates the Georgia Dome, negotiated most aspects of the new stadium deal with the Falcons. The Georgia Dome will be demolished once the new stadium is built.

The stadium’s architectural plans, reviewed Friday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution under an open-records request, show several features not previously reported, including suites at field level behind both end zones. Suites customarily are higher in stadiums, and the vast majority in the Falcons stadium will be, too.

The schematic drawings also show field-level club areas that ticket holders in the sure-to-be-pricey seats near the 50-yard line on both sides of the stadium will be able to access.

In all, the design calls for 71,041 seats, plus several other areas where seating can be added for mega-events such as the Super Bowl. And as expected, it includes specifications that suggest a Major League Soccer team is in the city’s future.

For now, on the site where the stadium will be built is the tiny parcel of land that the GWCCA has been unable to acquire.

Property owners Larry Zaglin and Laura Fetko “never wanted to sell the property” but are “certainly resigned to the fact this property is needed for the stadium and will be acquired one way or another,” said Pursley, their attorney.

The land has been in Zaglin’s family since 1902, Pursley said. That, he said, is when Zaglin’s grandfather bought it and started Puritan Mills as a producer of flour and animal feed.

The property currently is used as a parking lot during Georgia Dome events but otherwise is empty except for an advertising billboard. On Friday, a sign was posted on the lot announcing the GWCCA’s Nov. 12 public meeting regarding the use of eminent domain.

The GWCCA has offered $1.262 million for the parcel, Pursley said. The property owners have countered at $12.5 million, he said.

The GWCCA has contended its offer represents appraised value of the property, which is 296 feet long, fronting on Mangum Street, but only 73 feet deep. But the appraisal, Pursley argued, does not take into account the land’s “best use” as a hotel.

“This property would be capable of a hotel building that would justify up to $25 million in value of land,” Pursley said.

He conceded that even $12.5 million is an astronomical price if measured by square footage — but not, he said, if measured by the number of hotel rooms the property could accommodate.

The GWCCA declined to comment on the matter.

Pursley expects the eminent-domain process to result in a court-appointed “special master” setting the price that the state will pay to take title to the property. Either party then could appeal for a jury trial in Fulton County Superior Court over the final valuation, Pursley said.

“This process for acquiring title … would be done in time for ground-breaking (next spring),” he said, although a determination of final valuation could last much longer.

Deals were reached last month to acquire the two major pieces of property needed to build the stadium just south of the Georgia Dome — the properties of Mount Vernon Baptist and Friendship Baptist churches. Throughout those protracted negotiations, the city and state pledged not to use eminent domain.

Stadium planners are attempting to acquire about five additional parcels, totaling about 2 acres. Those include the Zaglin property. Some of the others are outside the stadium footprint but are needed for related infrastructure work.

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