The Atlanta Falcons cleared the last major obstacle to securing the preferred site for their new $1 billion retractable roof stadium.
On Friday morning Mayor Kasim Reed confirmed that agreements are in place to purchase both Friendship and Mount Vernon Baptist Churches and that will pave the way for the new stadium to be built on the preferred south site, at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. and Northside Drives.
Reed confirmed at a press conference today that Mount Vernon leaders, who joined him for the announcement, have tentatively agreed to reduce their asking price to $14.5 million, down from their original $20.4 million request. The Falcons have agreed to pay the difference between the $6.2 million state officials can pay and what the church wants, Reed said during the conference.
"We really think we've accomplished what we have accomplished today in the Atlanta way," Reed said. "Folks are here because they want to be here. Folks are going to sell their property if the congregation decides it's in their best interest to sell their property."
The announcement comes just days after the mayor told the Daily World exclusively that there was a 70 percent chance the two sides would come to an agreement and four days after he told reporters the deal would be closed one way or another within "five to seven business days."
Mount Vernon officials have been mum on the negotiations, but were alongside Reed and leaders from Friendship Baptist Church at the event. Both churches will still have to put the proposed deal up for a vote to their congregations before the deal is official. While Mount Vernon plans to put the vote before its congregation on Sept. 19, Friendship, which announced an agreement with the city in August, has still not set a date for a full vote.
At the August press conference Friendship's board of trustees chairman, Lloyd Hawk, said he was confident in a yes vote from his congregation, but also understood the need for all members to have a say.
"We're happy to be at this milestone but we also understand that for our church, the congregation must have the chance to discuss this and make their opinions heard and then make the final decision," said Lloyd Hawk, Chairman of the Board of Trustees for Friendship Baptist.
"I think any time you do a situation like this you're gonna have opinions on the entire spectrum of those for and against. But we believe that we would not have come together [on] this point if we did not have a proposal that the church is gonna be able to embrace and move forward with."
Pastor Rodney Turner, head of Mount Vernon, said that he was pleased with the current proposal and that the additional money made a difference in negotiations.
"We've been in prayer (over the decisions)," he said. "We're a church, not a business."
Reed had stepped into negotiations and enlisted the help of former Atlanta mayor and UN Ambassador Andrew Young after the Georgia World Congress Center Association failed to come to an agreement with Mount Vernon by an Aug. 1 deadline set by the parties.
The mayor has been one of the stadium's most active supporters since the plan's inception and said that while he won't rush the church, he's expecting a decisive up or down vote soon.
"Fortunately, Mr. Blank and Falcons organization support this concept, but we do have a construction schedule to meet," he said. "So, I think we have a good compromise right now, as long as we're able to come to an agreement in a very short fashion, I think we'll be able to get a deal done on the south site."
There are six other parcels of land that will still remain to be purchased even if the churches agree to sell their land, but Reed said that, unlike the churches, none of those pieces is essential. Building the stadium without any of those parcels would be more difficult but not impossible, he said, according to the Associated Press.