Stadium update: Opponents of city bonds say they are weighing options to appeal first ruling in city’s favor

By David Pendered

Atlanta has won the first round of the legal fight over its authority to issue more than $278 million in bonds for the future Falcons stadium.

In February lawyers for opponents of Atlanta's plan to sell bonds for the Falcons stadium talk with reporters after a hearing: John Woodham (center, left) Thelma Wyatt Moore (center, right). File/Credit: David Pendered

In February lawyers for opponents of Atlanta’s plan to sell bonds for the Falcons stadium talk with reporters after a hearing: John Woodham (center, left) Thelma Wyatt Moore (center, right). File/Credit: David Pendered

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville ruled last week in the city’s favor. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s office issued a statement saying the mayor was “pleased” with the outcome.

However, the city cannot issue any bonds during the 30-day period during which the opponents can appeal the court ruling. Opponents said Sunday they are weighing their options and previously have said they would appeal an unfavorable ruling. They already have delayed a sale that was on a fast track in February.

Reed’s office issued a statement Friday that quoted the mayor as saying:

  • “I’m pleased that the court upheld our position, and that we can continue to move forward with this important project that will be a significant anchor to our ongoing development efforts in Downtown Atlanta. I’m confident this stadium will benefit not only the city’s job creation and tourism, but it will also benefit the people who live, work and play in the surrounding neighborhoods.”

The statement concluded:

  • “The order overrules a 20-count objection filed by John Woodham and Thelma Wyatt Moore on behalf of five intervenors. The Court upheld Invest Atlanta’s bond proposal and overruled each and every one of their objections. The City and Invest Atlanta have long maintained that a public-private partnership to keep the Atlanta Falcons in downtown Atlanta is good for the City and for economic development.”
Judge Ural Glanville

Judge Ural Glanville

Early actions by the city indicate officials intended for the bonds to have been sold by now.

The petition that seeks authorization for Atlanta to sell the bonds was submitted Feb. 4. Glanville issued a ruling that same day, setting the bond validation hearing for Feb. 10. Presuming the judge ruled fairly quickly and the paperwork is in order, the bonds could have been on the market in March.

Woodham and Wyatt Moore challenged the bond issuance on a wide array of points. Incidentally, Woodham may be best known in Atlanta for his six-year court fight against the funding mechanism of the Atlanta BeltLine; Moore, a retired Fulton County Superior Court judge, has been praised by environmentalists for her ruling that was first in the nation to link coal-fired power plants to global warming.

As Woodham and Wyatt Moore describe the process the state and city used to enable Atlanta to extend the hotel/motel tax to help pay for a new sports arena, fatal errors were made all the way from the state law that purports to authorize the extension, to the Georgia World Congress Center Authority for its handling of various matters, to Atlanta for abandoning property for the stadium project and other matters.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.

Terms of the deal include a Sept. 30 deadline for Atlanta to sell at least $200 million in revenue bonds backed by the city’s hotel/motel tax and deposit the money into the appropriate account.

The Falcons have proven flexible on other deadlines, notably the determination of a stadium site that involved acquisition of two churches and their properties.

The delays in public financing also weigh on a $200 million construction loan from the NFL. The G4 program that’s to provide the loan has a requirement that public funding be part of the overall construction funding.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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