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Orlando drops church lawsuit, moving MLS stadium

Monday - 8/4/2014, 6:20pm  ET

KYLE HIGHTOWER
Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- The City of Orlando is dropping eminent domain proceedings against a church that had been holding up construction of a new downtown Major League Soccer stadium, and is opting instead to adjust its planned location.

Mayor Buddy Dyer announced the decision Monday along with Orlando City Soccer Club officials. The city is purchasing an additional parcel of land that will allow it to move the location of the new stadium one block west of the original site, leaving Faith Deliverance Temple untouched.

Church officials said last month they didn't want to sell their property, which sat in the middle of the planned development for the $100 million stadium.

That came as a surprise to city officials, who had been in negotiations with the church to purchase its land. It had previously offered the church as much as $4 million for its land, but it was rejected. The city filed eminent domain proceedings in May.

Dyer said that after the church announced that it would fight that lawsuit, and because of "the unpredictable cost and timeline that could come with the legal proceedings," city officials began to look for alternatives. They found one when financial services company BBIF expressed interest recently in selling its property.

"With the sale final and a thorough due diligence process completed just last week, we determined that shifting the soccer stadium to the west was possible and actually presents a better opportunity for the city, the team, Faith Deliverance Temple and our residents," Dyer said.

Andrew Prince Brigham, an attorney for Faith Deliverance Church, said the city's decision was "an answer to prayer and victory for property rights."

"The church made a decision that it was not going to be about the money," Brigham told The Associated Press. "In defending their property rights, Faith Deliverance Temple told the city 'No, you can't take the property.' At times it's not all or nothing question. We found out the City of Orlando could move forward, but it had to be resourceful."

BBIF is located where the Carver Theatre -- which was demolished in 2005 -- once stood in the predominantly African-American Parramore district.

Orlando City SC will play its first MLS season in 2015 in the Florida Citrus Bowl. Construction on the new 19,500-seat stadium is scheduled to break ground this fall. The City of Orlando will own and operate the new stadium. Orlando City SC is contributing 50 percent of the costs for construction, as well as for any cost overruns.

The team plans to move into the new facility in time for the 2016 MLS season.

"We applaud the mayor for finding an alternative solution that is a win for everyone involved," Orlando City President Phil Rawlins said in a statement. "We recognize the rich tradition of the (Parramore) community and its deep connection to residents. Therefore, we will incorporate elements into the stadium, such as the Carver name in respect to the legendary theatre that resided there on the site many years ago."

The team said the basic design of the stadium remains unchanged despite the location adjustment and that the new site will includes enhanced match day experiences including additional plaza areas and parking.

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