A green light for Atlanta’s Center for Civil, Human Rights

By Maria Saporta

Thanks to a unanimous vote by a city authority, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights is moving forward.

Invest Atlanta, the new name of the Atlanta Development Authority, voted Friday morning to give the attraction flexibility in how $28.5 million of Tax Allocation District (TAD) dollars could be spent by the developers of the Center.

Doug Shipman, president and CEO of the Center, said that the authority basically was supporting the decision to build the attraction in phases. The first phase will be at least 30,000 square feet — about half the size that is ultimately planned to be built on the same block as the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola.

“Phase 1 is fully funded,” Shipman said. “Invest Atlanta’s action gives us flexibility in the disbursement of funds. It allows us to manage the cash flow a little bit easier.”

Several years ago, the authority had approved providing $40 million to help pay for the development of the Center. Of that, $11.5 million went to repay the loan so the community could buy a treasured collection of Martin Luther King Jr.’s papers. The papers, which are housed at Morehouse College, will be prominently displayed when the Center is completed.

The TAD bonds do have a couple of restrictions.

“We have to break ground by June, 2012, and we have to spend all the Invest Atlanta/Atlanta Development Authority money by March 2014,” Shipman said. “Because of those two timelines, we needed to get the project under construction as soon as possible.”

The Center had begun talking to the authority lat fall about getting some flexibility in how it could spend the remaining TAD dollars. In fact, the resolution was supposed to have been on the authority’s agenda a couple of times late last year, but it never came up for a vote.

The timeline to start construction of the project was getting critical. As Shipman said: “certainly June 2012 is right around the corner.”

Now the project can move at full speed.

The Center has raised $24.67 million in private funds in addition to the $40 million in TAD dollars. That will cover all the costs to build the first phase — $64.67 million.

Now the architects and contractors are working on the design for the first phase and how the best to plan for the future phases. The first phase will include exhibition space, event space, a broadcast facility and all the back office operations for the Center.

While planning and construction for the first phase is underway, the Center will continue to raise funds for the Center so that future phases could be built.

“Phase 2 could happen very quickly depending on fundraising,” Shipman said.

The first phase of the Center also is being planned to be completely self-sustaining — requiring no annual fundraising to pay for its operations.

That is an important factor for several foundations and grantees who want to be sure that the Center doesn’t operate at a deficit or open with a debt. Ultimately, the plan calls for the development of a $100 million center plus a $25 million endowment.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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