DeCosta: Airport contract winner stiffed city

The Atlanta airport’s former top manager said he threatened to reopen bidding for a controversial advertising contract when the company that won failed to live up to terms.

But Ben DeCosta, Hartsfield-Jackson International’s ex-general manager, testified Wednesday he made peace with the company, Clear Channel, after it made a payment of more than $1.7 million to make good on some of what it owed.

DeCosta’s testimony came during the trial in a longrunning lawsuit against the city by Corey Airport Services, an Atlanta firm that in 2002 lost out to Clear Channel for the airport’s indoor ad contract.

Corey’s suit against the airport, Atlanta City Hall and former officials including DeCosta and ex-Mayor Shirley Franklin contends the city unfairly granted the contract to Clear Channel and its politically-connected minority partner.

The agreement called for the airport to receive 50 percent of the gross advertising revenue. That agreement was with another company Clear Channel subsequently acquired. Clear Channel later agreed to raise the airport’s take to 61.2 percent per month but never paid that increased amount.

The $1.7 million payment, DeCosta testified, covered the difference in the back rent owed, plus interest going back to 2005.

He said he didn’t give Clear Channel executives an ultimatum when he threatened to reopen the contract. “I was taking a hard negotiating position,” DeCosta said.

DeCosta was called to testify by Corey lawyers, who contend Clear Channel and its minority partner, Barbara Fouch, should not have had been awarded the contract because they already owed $5.3 million in back rent. Corey attorneys say that should have disqualified them under city rules.