published Friday, June 21st, 2013

Historic church in Atlanta rejects offer for NFL stadium site

ATLANTA — One of two historic Atlanta churches near the site of a proposed new NFL stadium has rejected the city’s initial offer for its land.

The city offered $13.5 million, but Friendship Baptist Church countered with $24.5 million, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said in an interview with WXIA-TV.

Reed said the city couldn’t afford that, but is now offering $15.5 million.

Church leaders declined to talk about the negotiations.

The state is handling negotiations with Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, across the street from Friendship and closer to the site of the proposed stadium. The new home for the Atlanta Falcons would be built south of the Georgia Dome if the churches agree.

Officials have said that if they can’t reach agreements with the churches, the $1 billion, retractable-roof stadium would be built on another site, north of the Georgia Dome.

Friendship is just across Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, which would have to be rerouted through the church’s property to make way for the new stadium.

Fulton County tax records show Friendship’s property is worth more than $1.2 million and Mount Vernon’s tops $1 million, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The late Mayor Maynard Jackson’s father once preached at Friendship Baptist, a congregation whose history dates to the early days of the American Civil War.

When Friendship Baptist formally organized in 1866, members say it became Atlanta’s first independent black Baptist congregation. Without any property of their own, congregants initially worshipped in a train boxcar shipped in from Tennessee.

Morehouse College housed classes in the congregation in 1879 and Spelman began in the church’s basement two years later.

Mt. Vernon, which began as a storefront church in 1915, moved several times before landing at the property near the Georgia Dome, including a 1955 move because of road expansion.

Earlier this year, Reed and Falcons owner Arthur Blank agreed to financing terms for a new stadium to replace the 20-year-old Georgia Dome.

Reed and Blank have both said they prefer the site near the churches, but were holding an option for the site north of the Dome if negotiations with the churches fail.

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