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East terminal airport designers strike back

By Justin Boron

Former designers of a new international terminal at the Atlanta airport fired back at city aviation managers Wednesday, nearly four months after the design group was dropped from the project.

Although the dispute doesn't directly involve Clayton County, development officials have said it has stalled at least part of a redevelopment project north of Forest Park that county officials hope will include hotels, restaurants, offices, retail, and multi-modal transportation like bus service and commuter rail.

The design team and Atlanta airport officials are quarreling over who is responsible for plans that far exceed initial budget estimates for the terminal's construction. Airport officials have blamed the budget overrun on the design group made up of Leo A. Daly and other contractors. The design team claims it was acting on instructions from airport manager Ben DeCosta to broaden the scope of the project.

Atlanta City Attorney Linda DiSantis, said, "Obviously we disagree with their version of the facts." She added the conflict would be resolved in litigation and not by discussing the matter in the media.

Chip Ingraham, an attorney for the design team, said ultimately the firing will end up costing the city of Atlanta $150 million in redesign fees, rising material costs, and debt service to the bonds issued for the project.

The group is suing for $60 million in owed compensation and damages to the designers' reputation, Ingraham said.

"That is a blemish that can be deadly," he said.

The litigation will not likely have any direct impact on Clayton County. But the county's development officials have said the delay in the terminal's completion does significantly set back at least part of the Mountain View redevelopment district planned east of where the terminal will be constructed.

In the area north of Forest Park, confined by Interstates 75 and 675, Clayton County officials envision a high-end village of hotels and multi-modal transportation hubs that would be fueled by passenger traffic coming from the new international terminal.

"Obviously, the parking planned for the area is not needed until the terminal is there," said Emory Brock, the county's former economic development director, in an earlier story on the terminal delay's impact on development. "You can't build a hotel until the terminal is there."

DeCosta has said previously the airport still plans to expand the international terminal.

DiSantis said the airport is evaluating a new designer to move forward with the project.

While Atlanta officials and the terminal's former design team duke it out, Clayton County development officials have said they plan to focus on other parts of the Mountain View development like the widening of Conley Road and commuter rail.