Scott Rafshoon, Hunton & Williams, Atlanta. John Disney/ALM

G. Scott Rafshoon has left Dentons to become a partner at Hunton & Williams, citing its public-private partnership (P3) practice as the draw.

It’s the first time Rafshoon has changed law firms in his 21 years in practice—even though he’s worked at three different firms. He joined Long Aldridge & Norman in 1996, which merged with Washington-based McKenna & Cuneo in 2002, forming McKenna Long & Aldridge. That firm was acquired by global megafirm Dentons two years ago.

“Hunton has a strong and growing practice in P3. It fits very well with what I do and want to do more of,” Rafshoon said, adding that Hunton & Williams also has a strong corporate department.

“It’s not always easy to have a hybrid practice,” said Rafshoon, who combines his public-private partnership work with a transactional practice involving corporate, M&A and project finance matters. “I saw an opportunity at Hunton to do both.”

The Richmond-based firm, which reported $541 million in revenue last year, has had an Atlanta office since 1988. With Rafshoon that office has 34 lawyers, out of about 700 nationally.

Rafshoon, 52, started working more than a decade ago on deals to privatize military housing, which he called “an early example of public-private partnerships in the U.S.”

Most of the military housing deals have concluded, he said, but they became a model for other types of public-private partnerships, such as university systems privatizing student housing.

GMH Communities Trust was a major initial client for Rafshoon for military housing deals. U.K. company Balfour Beatty bought GMH’s military housing division in 2008, and Rafshoon has continued to represent Balfour Beatty on university housing and other privatization deals as well as corporate and M&A work.

The military also is privatizing other types of assets, such as utilities. Rafshoon just closed the financing deal for a client with a 50-year contract to upgrade and maintain the utilities infrastructure for a big Maryland base, Aberdeen Proving Ground, that designs and tests munitions.

Playing P3 Catch-Up

Rafshoon said Europe and Canada are far ahead of the United States on public-private partnership deals. “In Canada it can be the default method for certain infrastructure, not the alternative,” he said.

“These partnerships did not go into full gear as quickly as some expected [in the United States], but lots of us believe this is going to be the future of our infrastructure updates,” Rafshoon said, adding that Hunton & William’s home state, Virginia, is ahead of the curve in P3 projects in transportation.

“It’s kind of like soccer,” he said. “When I was a kid, they talked about soccer as the next great sport. And now soccer is finally becoming the big thing,” he said, noting the enormous popularity of the city’s new Major League Soccer team, Atlanta United, which attracted 55,000 fans to its first game this spring.

The University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents has done one of the largest-ever on-campus housing privatizations nationwide. It awarded a 65-year contract, worth $517 million in its initial phase, to Rhode-Island based Corvias Group in 2014 to develop and operate dorms for nine campuses—almost 10,000 beds. Holland & Knight represented Corvias, and Eversheds Sutherland represented the board.

Rafshoon said additional dorm privatizations are in the offing in Georgia, California, South Carolina and Florida, where Hunton has a Miami office.

“Hunton has a strong real estate practice in a number of states primed to do these partnerships,” he said.

Notable public-private infrastructure deals in Georgia have included the state Department of Transportation’s $460 million contract with North Perimeter Contractors, a partnership between Spanish multinational Ferrovial Agroman and engineering firms The Louis Berger Group and Neel-Schaffer to improve the I-285 and Georgia 400 interchange, and new stadium deals for the Atlanta Braves and Falcons and the renovation of Philips Arena for the Atlanta Hawks.

Hunton & Williams played a role in another major joint venture between Georgia State University and private developers to buy the Braves’ old stadium, the 68-acre Turner Field site, from the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority, which closed at the beginning of the year. Hunton & Williams public finance partner Douglass Selby represented the recreation authority with real estate counsel J.R. England in Dallas.

Two years ago, the Georgia Legislature passed enabling legislation, similar to laws in Virginia, Florida and other states, to allow unsolicited private proposals for a broad range of projects, including transportation, wastewater facilities, schools, prisons and public housing. For the aforementioned Georgia projects, state entities issued bid requests.

Nationally, President Donald Trump has proposed a $1 trillion infrastructure initiative, using tax incentives to attract financing from the private sector, though the details are unclear.

“The reality is that nobody knows what is going to happen in D.C.,” Rafshoon said. “We are clearly in need of major infrastructure upgrades in this country. I would love to see the administration and Congress be serious about this—and it can be done through private partnerships, where there is shared risk between the government and the private sector.”

Meredith Hobbs writes about the Atlanta legal community and the business of law. Contact her at mhobbs@alm.com. On Twitter: @MeredithHobbs