ATLANTA - The congregation of Friendship Baptist Church overwhelming accepted on Sunday an offer to sell its facility to make way for a new football stadium.
The church and nearby Mount Vernon Baptist Church are on a site preferred by city officials and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority for the new stadium. Mount Vernon agreed on Thursday to sell its facility for $14.5 million.
“We believe with this transaction in our ability to remain in our community,” said Lloyd Hawk, chairman of Friendship’s board of trustees. “We will be able to provide an even greater level of service and ministry, which is so desperately needed for this community to reach the heights it is capable of achieving and so desperately deserving.”
The deal will net the 151-year-old church $19.5 million, to be paid for by the Atlanta Falcons. The team and the GWCCA will combine funds to pay for Mount Vernon.
The agreements to sell by the two churches brings to an end the saga over the viability of the south site, which city leaders prefer because of its proximity to two MARTA stops, a proposed multi-modal station and the GWCCA’s other facilities, such as Centennial Olympic Park.
Hawk would not say how many “yes” or “no” votes were cast in Friendship’s decision, offering that support for the deal was “overwhelming.” He also said he did not know how long the congregation met to vote.
One member agreed with the decision to sell and move, but is sad to see the building go.
"It makes a lot of sense. Business sense and sometimes business and religion don't quite meet," said church member Lafayette Beamon.
Another person told Channel 2, "It was a good meeting," but another said "Everybody's sad about (the decision)."
The head of Friendship's board of trustees said the church is considering new locations, all within the community and hope to use money from the buyout to expand their ministries.
"We all know a stadium doesn't transform a community, what had happened though is all the attention that has been brought to this community brings us all the opportunity to now take advantage of that and see if we can finally ever get this community to where it really should be," said Lloyd Hawk.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who helped negotiate deals with Friendship and Mount Vernon Baptist Church, the church across the street which accepted the city's $14.5 million buyout, said he's happy with the outcome and the process.
"We never used the eminent domain tactic or threat and we came to what, by all opinions that I'm aware of, is a fair arrangement, so I feel terrific," Reed said.
Friendship leaders said they'll decide on a new permanent location in the next 60 to 90 days. Things should start moving a lot faster on plans for the new billion dollar stadium. The Falcons hope to move in to their new home by kickoff in the fall of 2017.