ATLANTA-- A lawsuit being pursued by a lawyer with a history of delaying development projects in Atlanta could hold up the new Falcons stadium indefinitely.
The court challenge to at least $200 million in bonds to help finance construction of the $1.2 billion project is set for a hearing April 10 in Fulton County Superior Court. Buckhead lawyer John Woodham has a track record of holding up development plans in Atlanta.
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Last year, he took lawsuits challenging the use of school tax revenue to finance development projects along the Atlanta Beltline and in northwest Atlanta to the Georgia Supreme Court. By the time the justices dismissed the cases,the planned sale of $35 million in bonds for projects in the Perry-Bolton area had been delayed almost three years.
In 2008, Woodham prevailed in another lawsuit involving funding for the Beltline when the state Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the use of school taxes for purposes other than education. The General Assembly quickly passed a constitutional amendment essentially reversing the court decision, and voters ratified the change that fall.
In the stadium case, what Woodham called the "show stopper" argument stems from legislation the General Assembly passed in 2010 extending Atlanta's hotel-motel tax. Woodham said language in the bill alluding to the Georgia Dome and a potential "successor facility" is so specific the bill must be deemed a "special"law.
Under Georgia's constitution, special laws may not be amended onto general laws, in this case the state law governing hotel-motel taxes, he said. But the city's lawyers argued in a brief that the 2010 law is constitutional because the underlying general law on the hotel-motel tax did not address either the issue of funding a successor stadium to the Georgia Dome or how hotel-motel tax revenue should be used after 2020,when the tax was due to expire.
Woodham also objected to the deal reached between the Falcons and the city as a violation of the state constitution's gratuities clause, which prohibits the state and local governments from giving away goods or services to a private entity. Under a resolution approved by the city council last year, the Falcons would receive full control of the operation and management of the stadium in exchange for an annual fee.
"For the Falcons to get all of the revenue from the stadium and pay a license fee of just $2.5 million a year ... that's an unlawful gratuity," Woodham said.
The city's lawyers countered that the deal does not represent a gratuity because the public would receive immense benefits from the stadium."The new stadium project will promote tourism, boost the economy and bring other benefits to the region," the city's brief stated. "The new stadium project is consistent with ... public purposes... [that] include the development of trade, commerce, industry and employment opportunities."