NFL Falcons Stadium Bond Fight Taken to Top Georgia Court

An Atlanta bond issue to help finance a new stadium for the National Football League’s Falcons is being challenged before the Georgia Supreme Court over claims it violates the state’s constitution.

Home Depot Inc. co-founder Arthur Blank, who owns the Falcons, is getting help from the city to build a $1.2 billion football stadium to replace the Georgia Dome, which opened in 1992. The new site’s neighbors, who failed to persuade a state judge to invalidate the city bond issue of as much as $278 million, have appealed that decision to the state’s top court. They argue the city hotel tax to pay for the bonds is unconstitutional.

Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville in Atlanta last month validated the bonds and overruled all objections. Glanville found that the security for the bonds was “sound, feasible and reasonable,” and the stadium project met public purposes guidelines.

The neighbors’ appeal filed June 5, “delays the issuance of the bonds until final resolution” by the Georgia Supreme Court, John Woodham, the objectors’ attorney, said in an e-mail today. This would delay the city of Atlanta’s “public financing component” of the stadium project during that time, he said.

Construction of the stadium will proceed, Douglass Selby, an attorney for the city, said yesterday in a phone interview. While the bonds won’t be issued until the appeal is resolved, the city sought validation of the bonds early to accommodate any objections or appeals, he said.

Although the stadium will be state-owned through the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, the Falcons will operate it and keep stadium revenue under a licensing agreement. Jennifer LeMaster, a spokeswoman for the World Congress Center Authority, didn’t immediately return a call after regular business hours yesterday seeking comment on the case.

Atlanta Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons won’t comment on the bond issue because the team isn’t a party to the proceedings, Kim Shreckengost, a spokeswoman for AMB Group LLC, the Falcons’ parent company, said yesterday in an e-mail.

“We do have full confidence that our partners at the city, Invest Atlanta and the GWCCA will appropriately handle these challenges,” she said. “Construction of the new stadium has been under way for several months and we will continue to move forward.”

Neighborhoods Burdened

Neighborhood critics say the city-adopted plan unfairly burdens residents of two predominantly black neighborhoods. A group of community leaders, including three activists and a retired Baptist minister, won a court ruling in February allowing them to intervene in the city’s bond process.

The residents’ legal argument hinged on the claim that extending the city’s hotel tax to repay the bonds unconstitutionally turns a general law, applicable statewide, into one governing a single project. The city said in court filings that the bonds are authorized by state law and the plan’s use of 39 percent of the hotel tax is appropriate.

Glanville found no merit in the objectors’ arguments. Georgia law requires court approval before government general-obligation revenue bonds can be issued.

The case is Georgia v. Atlanta Development Authority, 2014-cv-242035, Superior Court, Fulton County (Atlanta).

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