Many urge GWCCA, churches to try again as talks break off over Falcons stadium site

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority walked away Thursday from its several-months-long attempt to acquire one of the two churches on the preferred site of the new Atlanta Falcons stadium.

In a letter obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution under an open-records request, the GWCCA informed Mount Vernon Baptist Church that it is “officially terminating negotiations” and “abandoning its efforts” to purchase the church’s property.

The action came after the church “unanimously rejected” the GWCCA’s “best and final offer” of $6.2 million, according to the letter and other documents.

Without Mount Vernon’s property, the stadium cannot be built on the site just south of the Georgia Dome long favored by the city and the GWCCA, a state agency that operates the Dome. The Falcons this week began a feasibility study of an alternate site a half-mile north of the Dome at the corner of Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard and Northside Drive.

Nothing contractually precludes the possibility of renewed talks at some point between stadium planners and Mount Vernon officials, although documents reflect a wide gap in their negotiations.

The church’s most recent asking price is not clear from the documents, but a report sent to the GWCCA by the church’s attorney on July 10 — obtained by the AJC — suggested numbers far above $6.2 million.

“While the land value alone of the church property in the New Stadium Project context is arguably within an $11 million-$14 million range, that amount would not make MVBC whole or enable a relocation to take place on meaningful terms,” the church’s report stated.

The report went on to itemize “total project costs” of relocation and other expenses, including lost revenue from parking at the current building, of $20.37 million.

The GWCCA said in its letter ending negotiations that its $6.2 million offer was “based on the highest appraised value received by the authority” for the church’s property.

GWCCA officials declined to comment on Thursday’s development, and Mount Vernon officials didn’t return calls. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s office also had no comment.

Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, a real estate attorney, said calling off the negotiations may not mean the south site deal is off the table for good.

“This is not entirely unusual in the negotiation process to have parties … stop talking altogether and have a cooling-off period where they reconsider their positions,” said Mitchell, noting he is not directly involved in the negotiations.

“It’s hard for me to call where things will go,” he said, “But what needs to happen is certainly both parties need to consider whether their unwillingness to talk is more about taking a position than finding the best solution.”

Mitchell said it’s possible a deal could still be struck, given that Thursday’s deadline for reaching agreements with the churches was self-imposed by the Falcons and the GWCCA.

“Over the next couple of weeks, we will see how things unfold,” Mitchell said. “I hope there can still be movement and that the parties have reached only a temporary impasse.”

Separate from the negotiations with Mount Vernon, the city has been in talks with another church, Friendship Baptist, whose property also would need to be acquired to build on the south-of-the-Dome site.

Lloyd Hawk, chairman of Friendship’s board of trustees, said Thursday that he thought his church was “really close” to a deal. However, without Mount Vernon, there would be no reason for stadium planners to purchase Friendship.

“It has definitely been a long process and at times frustrating,” Hawk said. “But we are a stronger church because of it than we were six months ago.”

Mike Koblentz, chairman of the Northwest Community Alliance, a neighborhoods organization that opposes the alternate stadium site, said he was disappointed by the latest turn of events.

“I think they need to get back to the (negotiating) table,” he said. “I’m open to some outside-of-the-box thinking that can make this work.”

Atlanta City Councilman Michael Bond said he was surprised to hear the latest developments.

“I thought they were going to continue to negotiate until they had a deal,” he said. “I can’t say whether this is a maneuver. But that type of letter usually seems pretty final to me.”

Bond said that, despite the challenge of being a half-mile from the nearest MARTA station, the north-of-the-Dome site would be a fine location for the stadium.

District 3 Councilman Ivory Lee Young, who represents the neighborhoods impacted by the stadium, said he was “disappointed both parties have given up” on the negotiations.

“It’s not the best choice for Atlanta,” said Young, an architect who has long been a proponent of the south site.

Young said the churches had expressed interest in selling, leading to these negotiations. He called for the parties to resume talks.

“There should be some good-faith attempts on both sides to make sure they’ve exhausted every opportunity to reconcile their differences,” he said. “I don’t think the churches or Atlanta Falcons have exhausted their resources on either side.”

The plan is for the stadium to open in 2017. Construction is scheduled to begin in mid-2014. The feasibility study on the alternate site is due to be completed by Oct. 1.

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