The condemnation trial for a key piece of convention center land begins Friday.
Circuit Court Judge Barbara Haynes will gavel in the takings case at 9 a.m., as the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency seeks to condemn 5.66 acres of key SoBro land owned by Tower Investments.
The property is currently a large parking lot immediately south of the Sommet Center.
As MDHA went through the process of gobbling up property needed to build the Music City Center, the agency offered Tower $14.8 million, a little more than the $14.7 million the investment group paid for the land.
Tower Senior Vice President Alex Marks had been a vocal supporter of the MCC before things turned contentious with the project late last fall, in the wake of MDHA’s offer.
The framework of the trial became clearer in a Jan. 25 motion hearing in which Tower attorney Joe Conner argued — ultimately unsuccessfully — that he needed to depose six Metro councilmembers.
At issue is whether MDHA has the power to condemn the land. Conner has argued that under the state's housing authority statute the property would have to be blighted, although the word "blight" never came up in Metro Council or public hearings regarding the process.
In the meantime, Conner said, MDHA conducted a blight survey that raised the percentage of blighted property from "12 or 13 percent" to 37 percent of the Capitol Mall Redevelopment District.
Tower has contended from the beginning that its property is not blighted and that the company has the ability to develop the property on its own.
But Brian Jackson, a Miller & Martin attorney representing MDHA, said that, blighted or not, the Metro Council delegated its general authority to exercise eminent domain for the convention center to MDHA.
"The ordinance required and directed MDHA to acquire ... a list of properties in the SoBro district for a new convention center," he said. "If a statute or ordinance is clear on its face, you don't resort to extrinsic evidence of any kind, and this ordinance couldn't be any more clear."
Jackson said the Metro Charter explicitly gives the council the right to delegate its power, and Tower's request to subpoena the legislators is a smokescreen.
"The subpoenas of the elected officials are an attempt to expand this case. The real goal of Tower subpoenaing on the day of the [council] vote [on MCC financing] is an effort to broaden this case in an effort to delay and broaden it into tangential issues," he argued.
Conversely, though, Conner said Metro cannot extend its eminent-domain authority without action by the state legislature.