Vickie G. Johnson, who described herself as a 50-year member of Mount Vernon Baptist Church, voted against the deal to sell the church property. She emerged from the church on Thursday night, Sept. 19, 2013, to tell the media the vote count.
Photo: BEN GRAY / BGRAY@AJC.COM
Photo: BEN GRAY / BGRAY@AJC.COM

Mount Vernon Baptist Church accepts offer to sell for stadium

The Mount Vernon Baptist Church congregation voted overwhelmingly Thursday night to accept a $14.5 million offer to sell its property to make room for the new Atlanta Falcons stadium just south of the Georgia Dome, church leaders announced.

The decision came after more than an hour of discussion among church members, whose pastor, the Rev. Rodney Turner, last week struck a tentative deal with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to sell the historic property. Several members said the vote was 116-16.

A second church located on the site long preferred for the stadium by the city and state, Friendship Baptist, plans to vote Sunday on an offer to sell its property for $19.5 million.

If Friendship also approves the deal, the last major hurdle apparently would be cleared to build the stadium on the site. If Friendship rejects the offer, the stadium would be built on an alternate location a half-mile north of the Georgia Dome.

“We have a long way to go. Continue to pray for us,” Turner said after his congregation’s vote. “There’s still a lot to be done, but we are excited about what has happened tonight.

“We are excited about the possibilities and opportunities to continue outreach. … One of the things we are excited about is we will be able to do it in a greater way.”

Church member James Sellers, whose family had a business in the Vine City community for 80 years, voted against the deal. He said he was opposed to Mount Vernon or Friendship selling to make way for a stadium.

“For a team that’s going to have a new stadium every 20 years, you just can’t give away history,” Sellers said.

Kiersten Mathews, 32, voted no because she believes a church should move only if it outgrows its space — not for money, she said. “I didn’t feel comfortable about selling a church for a Dome that can be built somewhere else,” she said.

But Calvin Dozier, a member of three years, said he supported accepting the offer.

“They need a new church. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done (to this building),” Dozier said.

Friendship, located across Martin Luther King Jr. Drive from Mount Vernon, will hold its vote after worship service Sunday.

“We’re having our own discussions, and we’ll see what happens,” Lloyd Hawk, chairman of Friendship’s board of trustees, said after learning of the Mount Vernon vote.

The Falcons did not respond to a request for comment Thursday night. The organization previously said it would defer comment until site selection is finalized.

State money will fund $6.2 million of the Mount Vernon deal — the most officials say they can pay according to a state law preventing them from going higher than appraised value — and the Falcons have agreed to pay the rest, $8.3 million.

Earlier Thursday, a state agency discussed other aspects of the stadium project — including the planned demolition of the Georgia Dome in 2017.

The plan, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority board was told during a meeting at the Barnsley Gardens resort in Adairsville, is for demolition of the Dome to begin in March 2017, the same month that construction of the new stadium is scheduled to be completed. The Dome will be 25 years old at the time.

Carl Adkins, Georgia Dome general manager, said the challenge will be “to gracefully wind down operations while managing a full event load and keeping our team fully engaged to serve our customers.”

“We want to go out on top,” Adkins said.

After the Dome is demolished, the site will be converted to surface parking for the new stadium.

The plan is for the Falcons to begin playing in the new stadium in the 2017 NFL season and for many other Georgia Dome events — the SEC Championship football game and the Chick-fil-A Bowl among them — to also move into the new venue.

The GWCCA board was briefed Thursday on the latest designs for the stadium, including its signature retractable roof. GWCCA Chief Operating Officer Kevin Duvall said the Falcons have settled on the size of the roof opening: approximately 100,000 square feet, the middle of three sizes considered, in the center of the stadium.

The GWCCA board also heard updates on stadium contracts being negotiated with the Falcons that are more detailed than the memorandum of understanding signed in April. Key contracts, covering a wide range of business terms, are due to be completed by Oct. 1.

“Things are pretty much on schedule,” said Franklin Jones, an attorney representing the GWCCA. “I think October 1st is still a realistic date unless we hear something different from the Falcons.”

Frank Poe, GWCCA executive director, said late Thursday afternoon that he’d be eager to learn the result of the churches’ votes.

“We really applaud the mayor for his leadership in helping get it to this point,” Poe said. “And certainly we’ve preferred the south site as well.”

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Staff writer Leon Stafford contributed to this article.

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