Key church votes loom on Falcons stadium

The finish line is finally in sight for a decision on the location of the new Atlanta Falcons stadium. One of the two churches that need to move to make room for the $1 billion stadium just south of the Georgia Dome is scheduled to vote on a buyout offer Thursday night. The other church votes three days later.

Heading into the votes, here’s where things stand:

ABOUT THE VOTES

Leaders of both churches express support for the deals on the table, but majority rules. The congregation of Mount Vernon Baptist will vote first, in a meeting Thursday night at the church. The congregation of neighboring Friendship Baptist is scheduled to vote after worship service Sunday morning.

ABOUT THE OFFERS

Mount Vernon would get $14.5 million for its property — $6.2 million from the Georgia World Congress Center Authority and $8.3 million from the Falcons. Friendship would get $19.5 million, all from the Falcons. Both deals include provisions to help the churches find new locations.

IF BOTH CONGREGATIONS APPROVE DEALS …

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said his understanding is that the Falcons would drop the idea of an alternate location a half mile north of the Georgia Dome and build the stadium on the south-of-the-Dome site that the city and state have long preferred. The site is near the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Northside Drive, close to two MARTA stations.

IF EITHER CONGREGATION REJECTS DEAL …

Reed said that in this event he would support the Falcons building the stadium on the north-of-the-Dome site — at the corner of Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard and Northside Drive — and would make no further efforts for the south site. This commitment was crucial to the Falcons because the organization wants finality on the site in order to stay on schedule to open the stadium in 2017.

HOW THE DEALS HAPPENED

The Friendship offer has been in place since early August, negotiated by the city with funds the Falcons committed early this year. The Mount Vernon deal was more complicated because the GWCCA, which had responsibility for acquiring that church, was prevented by law as a state agency from offering more than appraised value of $6.2 million.

The Falcons turned their attention to the north site when the GWCCA broke off negotiations with Mount Vernon. But in a recent meeting with Reed, Falcons owner Arthur Blank agreed to make up the difference between the GWCCA’s offer and the city-negotiated $14.5 million price, down from the church’s initial request of $20.4 million.

The combination of the Falcons’ agreement to help fund the Mount Vernon purchase and Reed’s commitment to support the north site if the offer is rejected “was really the compromise,” the mayor said.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

The Falcons, the GWCCA and the city have an Oct. 1 deadline to complete more definitive stadium contracts than the memorandum of understanding signed in April. The GWCCA board plans to review some of the contracts at a meeting Thursday.

Also, if the churches ratify their deals, the GWCCA will continue trying to acquire six other pieces of land, totaling about two acres, to complete the south site. The state agency has kept open the option of using eminent domain to acquire those parcels, currently used for advertising signage and event parking. Reed suggested last week that the parcels, unlike the churches, may not be essential.