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Judge Hears Arguments In Legal Challenge Of Falcons Stadium Financing

Credit Keizers via wikipedia
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A Fulton County judge Thursday heard arguments in a legal challenge that could hold up public financing for a new Atlanta Falcons stadium.

After more than six hours of arguments, Judge Ural Glanville commended both sides and said he’d make a decision about next steps by April 25th.

“Those involved argued very well and very passionately in terms of your respective positions so I really have a lot to consider,” said Glanville.

The city of Atlanta and its economic development arm, Invest Atlanta, want to issue bonds valued at nearly $250 million to help build the $1.3 billion stadium. Hundreds of millions more in public funds would go to maintaining the stadium over the next 30 years. 

The city’s hotel/motel tax would back the bonds.

But a group of west Atlanta residents argue the deal reached between the city and the Falcons is unconstitutional and bad for taxpayers. The group filed a legal challenge (pdf) in February.

Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore, an attorney for the group, says chief among the issues is state lawmakers in 2010 renewed the city’s hotel/motel tax with the express purpose of helping build the new Falcons stadium. 

“It is a special law crafted for this particular project and it does not have equal applicability throughout the state of Georgia. Special laws of that nature are not constitutional,” said Moore.

The group also argues Invest Atlanta doesn’t have the authority to issue the bonds on behalf of the city.

Doug Selby, an attorney representing the city, rejects both arguments.

“The city of Atlanta and Invest Atlanta each have an independent basis on which to issue bonds for stadium facilities,” said Selby. 

The resident group denies it’s trying to derail the project. Rather, Moore says city officials need to reconsider its financing, which she argues is far more favorable to the Falcons than to local residents.

“We’re not seeking to delay it, but voices haven’t been heard. People need to look at what has been given away in this project,” said Moore.

The stadium deal calls for public financing to be in place by July 31. But the city isn’t permitted to issue the bonds until the legal challenge is resolved.

No matter what happens in the case, an appeal appears likely, creating a scenario that would almost certainly delay the bond issuance.

Nonetheless, the Falcons have already begun work on the new stadium using their own funds. A groundbreaking ceremony is set for May. Construction is slated to wrap up in 2017.