ATLANTA -- Atlanta officials have reached a $19.5 million preliminary deal to buy the property of one of two churches needed to build a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons, Mayor Kasim Reed said Tuesday.
The agreement to buy Friendship Baptist Church amounts to a partial victory for stadium supporters. To complete the deal, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority would still need to reach an agreement with a separate church, Mount Vernon Baptist Church. Those talks broke down recently. Afterward, the state authority said it would explore a different site north of the current Georgia Dome.
Reed wants the stadium built on a site south of the existing stadium. The Democratic mayor said in a news conference that the originally proposed site would be better served by public transportation, alleviating game day traffic jams in the city. Reed said that he asked former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young to serve as an intermediary to help relaunch talks between the state agency and Mount Vernon.
"For us to impose an artificial deadline when a significant part of this transaction has been closed, the hardest part, I think does not make sense," Reed said. "We can walk and chew gum at the same."
Congress Center spokeswoman Jennifer LeMaster did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Documents released to the media by the center show it broke off negotiations after Mount Vernon rejected a $6.2 million offer. The church's attorney told state officials that he understood the government could not offer more money than the appraised value of the church's property. The attorney suggested that the state agency or the Falcons find money to supplement their offer.
Reed told reporters that he understood the legal restrictions. "But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to figure this out as a community," Reed said.
Friendship church, established in 1862, first met in a donated boxcar that doubled as a space for worship and a classroom for Atlanta University. After it moved to Atlanta, Morehouse College set up classes at the church. Spelman College started in its basement.
Lloyd Hawk, chairman of the church's board of trustees, said the agreement must still be approved by the congregation.
"If we didn't feel there was a benefit to the church and the community, we would have said no eight months ago," he said.