By Maria Saporta and Amy Wenk
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Friday, November 23, 2012
Thanks to several new partners and sponsors, the College Football Hall of Fame is going forward with construction set to begin in January.
“We have erased the question mark,” said John Stephenson, interim CEO of Atlanta Hall Management Inc., which is coordinating the project. “We are going to build this attraction.”
After a two-year recruitment effort, it was announced in September 2009 that the College Football Hall of Fame had selected Atlanta to relocate the attraction from its home in South Bend, Ind. But the project stalled with slow fundraising during a down economy and because of changes in the leadership.
In an interview with Atlanta Business Chronicle on Nov. 19, Stephenson announced a new partnership with the Omni Hotel at CNN Center, which is right next door to where the Hall of Fame is being built. The Omni is Atlanta’s fourth-largest hotel with 1,070 rooms.
“They are contributing significant capital to the project,” said Stephenson, who would not give a specific dollar amount. “It’s a meaningful participation.”
The College Football Hall of Fame will be a 95,000-square-foot attraction that will have about 30,000 square feet of exhibit space. The total project cost is $66.5 million, and Stephenson said $51.5 million in sponsorships and contributions already has been committed.
Atlanta Hall Management also released its latest list of sponsors for the project, but it did not include how much each sponsor has pledged. John Christie, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for the Hall, said a “handful” of sponsors don’t want to be identified at this time.
In addition to the Omni Hotel, the new sponsors that are being announced are KIA, Under Armour, Georgia-Pacific and AT&T Inc.
In the 10-year agreement, the Omni Hotel will serve as the official hotel and concessionaire of the Hall of Fame. It will be the exclusive caterer for its special events — a significant revenue source for the attraction, second to ticket sales.
The Hall of Fame will offer four event spaces with room for up to 2,200 people. The largest space will be a re-created football field, which at nearly 15,000 square feet, will be able to host parties for up to 1,200 people.
“There’s nothing else like this in the city,” said Scott Stuckey, general manager at the Omni Hotel. “I think this will be a great new venue for Atlanta.”
The partnership saves the Hall of Fame money since it won’t have to build a kitchen. Instead, it will have use of a kitchen in the hotel’s north tower.
The Hall of Fame is banking on the hotel’s “white glove” service, said Brad Olecki, vice president of business development and sales for Atlanta Hall Management. The Omni is the only hotel in the immediate area that boasts four-diamond service, a top ranking from the American Automobile Association.
“Logistically, it makes sense for us,” said Gary Froeba, regional vice president for Omni Hotels & Resorts. The downtown Atlanta hotel already connects to the Georgia World Congress Center and Philips Arena.
Froeba said the hotel group has similar partnerships in other cities.
In Texas, the Omni Fort Worth Hotel serves as the exclusive caterer of the adjacent Fort Worth Convention Center.
In Tennessee, the Omni Nashville Hotel is being built alongside the Music City Center and will connect to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
The College Football Hall of Fame is being built with “plenty of flexibility” and the interactive exhibit space also “doubles as event space,” Stephenson said. “There’s a lot of air in the building.”
Asked about the groundbreaking for the attraction, Stephenson shied away from giving a specific date.
“We will have an active construction site on the Green lot in January,” Stephenson said, adding that the project is on schedule to open at the beginning of the 2014 football season — most likely that August.
But Stephenson added that Atlanta Hall Management is still raising money for the project.
“If we want to be totally debt free by the time we open, we need to raise $15 million,” he said. Atlanta Hall Management also is now a nonprofit, so “we have the opportunity to accept charitable dollars.”
Previously it has been reported that the following companies have signed up as sponsors. Stephenson and Christie, however, wouldn’t confirm the specific dollar amounts.
Chick-fil-A Inc. reportedly has pledged $6 million; the board of the Chick-fil-A Bowl has pledged $5 million; The Coca-Cola Co., $2.5 million plus marketing commitments; the Georgia Power Foundation, $2.5 million; Brasfield & Gorrie LLC, the general contractor, $500,000. Also, it has been previously announced that the city of Atlanta will contribute $1 million toward the project.
The College Football Hall of Fame also has received a $22.5 million loan from Regions Bank, BB&T and Fifth Third Bank to help it with the cash flow to build the project.
“The College Football Hall of Fame will be another cornerstone for our visitors,” said William Pate, president of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau. “This is really a blockbuster opportunity for Atlanta when you consider our sports portfolio, particularly college sports.”
Lastly, the state of Georgia has committed to provide $15 million in bonds to build infrastructure improvements around the attraction, including the parking garage.
“We have got a live project,” Stephenson said. “There’s a lot of momentum. The question mark of whether this is a real deal has been erased.”