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Morris Brown to City of Atlanta, Friendship Baptist: “Hands Off!”

Credit Jim Burress / WABE News

Morris Brown College supporters gathered on the steps of the school’s towering but crumbling Middleton Tower dorms late Thursday to protest what they call a “land grab” related to the Atlanta Falcon’s quest to build a new stadium. 

An audio version of this report

The team wants to construct the facility on land now owned by two churches.  

A deal with Mt. Vernon Baptist still hangs in the balance.

But the other, Friendship Baptist, could finalize a $19.5-million agreement as soon as Sunday. 

As part of Friendship’s plan, it wants to rebuild on adjacent property where the Morris Brown dormitory now stands. Recently uncovered documents show the church stipulates the city help broker that sale.

And that’s not gone over well with those with connections to the historically Black college who believe the City of Atlanta is interfering where it shouldn’t, and in the process interfering with the college’s efforts to emerge from bankruptcy. 

Chuck Barlow is past president of the Morris Brown National Alumni Association.  He says a $20-million plan was in the works between the college and Family Dollar Corporation to turn the towers into a hotel connected to the school’s hospitality program. 

That money would have pulled the college from bankruptcy. 

“That’s killed,” Barlow says.  ”If you take the towers away, that takes away the Family Dollar Corp.  That was the key to build this and make it a business and incorporation and partnership with Morris Brown.”

Supporters say the city’s involvement shows officials are more interested in a lucrative sports deal than in keeping the historically black institution afloat.  

In a statement, Mayor Reed calls the claim “preposterous.” [Reed’s full statement is at the end of this report.]

Meanwhile, Morris Brown supporters say they’ll be in the congregation Sunday at Friendship Baptist.  That’s when church membership is scheduled to vote on the $19.5-million offer.  

From Mayor Reed’s spokeswoman, Sonji Jacobs: 

“The claim that Mayor Kasim Reed and the City of Atlanta  are attempting to “land grab” Morris Brown College for the proposed new Atlanta Falcons stadium is preposterous. The two transactions have been separate and independent. Mayor Reed’s sole interest has been to enable Morris Brown to secure a stronger, financially healthier future as an educational institution that has been a vital part of the city since 1881. In addition, the Mayor is focused on bringing positive economic development and neighborhood revitalization to the West Side and the MLK corridor.  His desire to assist Morris Brown has been unwavering, including his support of the decision by President Barack  Obama and the U.S. Department of Education to forgive more than $9.4 million in debt owed by the college. 
 
Mayor Reed and his administration continue to believe that the $10 million financial offer put forth by the city, which would have eliminated all of Morris Brown’s debt, provided the school with a campus and gave the board the opportunity to repurchase the school’s assets while working toward accreditation, has been the best solution. However, we wish Morris Brown well in pursuing any other holistic alternative for securing the college’s future, including reaching an alternative deal to sell its properties. Finally, any negative assertion about Mayor Reed’s commitment to serving and protecting all Atlanta residents, including the African-American community, is blatantly false and misleading.”