Developer fights cancellation of lease to commercialize Paulding airport

A Feb. 13 hearing will concern the transfer of almost 3 acres from Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport to the state of Georgia for an aircraft mechanic school. AJC file photo
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A Feb. 13 hearing will concern the transfer of almost 3 acres from Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport to the state of Georgia for an aircraft mechanic school. AJC file photo

A federal judge is conducting a trial this week in a lawsuit brought by a developer that tried to commercialize Paulding County’s airport but had its lease canceled by county officials.

Propeller Investments’ Silver Comet Partners and Silver Comet Terminal Partners struck deals in 2012 with the Paulding County Airport Authority to lease terminal space and potentially airport land with the intent of developing the airport and attracting commercial airline flights. But many county residents opposed the plan and county commissioners took actions to halt the project. Several lawsuits stymied the commercialization effort, including one brought by the county against the airport authority.

Various efforts to start a second commercial airport in metro Atlanta have sprung up over the years but failed.

Silver Comet argued in court papers that the airport authority “acted in collaboration with the Paulding County Commission to prevent commercial passenger service at the Paulding County Airport.” Silver Comet has said Delta is behind the opposition to the commercialization because of potential competition to its hub at Hartsfield-Jackson.

But the airport authority contends that, after challenges grew, the developer did not fulfill its obligations to market designated airport land to companies.

County officials also say that Silver Comet also did not begin making payments for a larger share of the terminal as laid out in the lease.

During opening arguments in U.S. District Court in Rome, Georgia, Silver Comet attorney Tony Cochran said his client “did exactly what it agreed to do” by marketing the airport, but that it faced challenges in trying to attract businesses because Paulding “became known as that county that’s suing itself.”

Airport authority attorney Lee Carter argued that, as opposition to Paulding Airport commercialization mounted, Silver Comet “chose to leave Paulding County and focus on a new project in Seattle,” where it has commercialized Paine Field. But Silver Comet denies that. The company contends that, while executives moved across the country, the company maintained a presence in Paulding.

Because of the lack of agreement between the county and airport authority, which are both co-sponsors of the airport, the Federal Aviation Administration in mid-2018 stopped the commercialization proceedings. Paulding County’s general aviation airport hasn’t attracted the businesses it had hoped for. In recent years, officials have pursued plans for an aviation academy, which has also taken longer than expected.

Carter said upholding the termination of the deals “will allow the airport authority to move forward.”

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