The biggest issue facing the Atlanta Falcons' eye-popping new football stadium: whether to build it just north of the current Georgia Dome, which would mean greater distance from hotels, the airport, transit, and the city's skyline, or just south, which would mean buying the land presently occupied by a pair of historic churches.
The team prefers the south site. Those churches also prefer the south site. Friendship Baptist, established in 1866 and the wellspring for both Morehouse and Spelman colleges, has rejected the city's offer of $13.5 million for the property, asking for nearly double that. Mayor Kasim Reed told 11 Alive he's upped the offer by $2 million. Meanwhile, the state is negotiating with Martin Luther King Drive's Mount Vernon Baptist.
While the houses of worship could stand to collect windfalls (the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the combined land is worth just more than $2.2 million), they are of course not governed strictly by financials:
"I don't think [money] should even enter our decision-making. I really don't," said [Friendship] parishioner Juanita Jones Abernathy, whose late husband [Ralph David Abernathy] was a confidant of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. "It's a landmark. I think it should remain. It's been there for generations, and it needs to be there for generations to come."
Considering Mt. Vernon Baptist's real estate is worth an amount similar to Friendship Baptist's, it could cost the city and state significantly more than $30 million to secure the land, which could raise the public cost of the stadium beyond the $200 million for which it's on the hook. A $30 million price tag would amount to 3.7 percent of the $800 million the team's committed to building the facility, and it wouldn't include the $50 million Arthur Blank's setting aside for undetermined neighborhood improvements as a part of the overhaul.
Can the Falcons show the city and state it's worth that much money to play a few blocks south? I don't know. I'm imagining the kind of church one could build with $20 million in one's pocket, but luckily, it's not my decision to make.
The Falcons stadium deal is, as far as stadium deals with public components go, a relatively good one for its city. That $200 million was earmarked for tourism anyway, and it's been argued that an even bigger public number would need to be spent in order to maintain the apparently far-more-aged-than-the-human-mind-can-fathom Georgia Dome. Land acquisition fees from the public's trusts will never be popular, though at least they'd be going to longtime local institutions and not some corporation, right?
The parties have until Aug. 1 to reach an accord. If none is found, the hemisphere's boldest stadium will be built just north of the team's current house.