Falcons owner, Arthur Blank, may have a big problem standing in the way of building the $1 billion retractable-roof stadium on the site he wants and that’s tow churches near it. The two churches, Mt. Vernon Baptist Church and Friendship Baptist Church, could have a big say in where the new stadium for the Falcons could be built.
Mt. Vernon Baptist Church is in the middle of the favored stadium site, a chunk of land immediately south of the Georgia Dome. Friendship Baptist Church, 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 Falcons nest. Both churches date back to the late 1800s.
Lloyd Hawk, chairman of the Friendship’s board, said, “There’s no exact details yet on a proposal. And when we do, we will bring to the congregation a vote to decide. We are a Baptist church, and at a Baptist church all decisions go to the congregation.”
According to members, Friendship Baptist became Atlanta’s first independent black Baptist congregation when it organized in 1866. They didn’t own any land at that time so they worshipped in a train boxcar.
Mt. Vernon, which began in 1915, has been moved before because of a road expansion in 1955.
Atlanta’s Mayor, Kasim Reed, and Blank both want the new stadium on the site near the churches, but they have another site in mind if the deal with the churches fails. “We’re not going to force this deal,” Reed said. “If we can’t get an agreement where both sides feel very good about the transaction, then we will move to the north site.”
Buying out the two churches could prove costly. Tax records show Friendship’s property is worth more than $1.2 million and Mt. Vernon’s tops $1.4 million. Any sale of the land could cost many times more than that.
Negotiations have started between Georgia World Congress Center Authority, who would own the new stadium, and have been dealing with Mt. Vernon, and Atlanta city which has been negotiating with Friendship church. It’s still unclear who would pay for the churches properties, but the Falcons said in a statement that it would contribute up to $20 million.
However, Joe Beasley, a civil rights activist said, “Black institutions get in the way of bulldozers and poor communities just get abused. It would be good to have the stadium in Atlanta, but the community shouldn’t lay down and play dead just because three or four people make a decision.”