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ATL Business Chronicle

Center for Civil and Human Rights nears fundraising goal

By Maria Saporta and Lisa R. Schoolcraft
Friday, May 27, 2011

The National Center for Civil & Human Rights is closing in on its fundraising goal — which would allow it to break ground this fall and open in October 2013 — giving Atlanta a “signature” destination to match its civil rights legacy.

The center’s leaders have raised $75.5 million in donations and pledges for the attraction, which will be located on the same block as the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola on land donated by the soft drink company.

Another $9.5 million still needs to be raised before construction can begin. That will cover the $85 million building costs and permit the center to open without debt.

“Atlanta is unique from any other city — civil and human rights is Atlanta’s signature,” said Doug Shipman, CEO of the center, who has been working on the $100 million project for four years. “When people think of Atlanta, they think of our civil and human rights signature.”

As envisioned, the center will be a living entity that not only features the city’s history in the civil and human rights arena but becomes a place were modern day struggles are showcased and discussed.

“It will propel Atlanta on the national stage for conversations, programs and exhibitions about current issues. Atlanta will become the place to discuss current human rights issues in Egypt, Syria and debates over immigration policy,” Shipman said. “The center will put Atlanta as the place to host these discussions. It’s not just a historical role but one that keeps talking to the present.”

William Pate, president of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the National Center for Civil & Human Rights will become part of a critical mass of attractions that already are in Atlanta and important tourism destinations.

Those include the Martin Luther King Jr. Center and the historic King district on Auburn Avenue, The Carter Center, the Atlanta University campus and CNN, the 24-7 news channel credited with fostering communications around the world.

The center also will have broadcast capabilities so it can have conversations on issues, he said.

“It will be a living institution that is producing commentary — current and future-based,” Shipman said. “We will be trying to use that experience as a place of leadership, a place of change and a place of compromise.”

During the two-year construction period, the center’s leaders plan to raise another $15 million for an endowment that would help underwrite its operating expenses.

“We are really starting to see momentum around all kinds of private donations — corporate, philanthropic and individuals — nationally as well as regionally,” Shipman said. “We are going to be able to announce new national donors in the next few weeks.”

The center was able to receive $40 million from the city’s tax allocation district funds. That helped the city complete the acquisition costs of the special collection of civil rights legend Martin Luther King Jr.’s papers — portions of which will be continually on view in the center.

The 90,000-square-foot center will include 63,000 square feet under the roof with 25,000 dedicated to exhibition space. There also will be two covered areas that can be used for multiple activities and an outdoor, uncovered amphitheater space.

In a recent cost-cutting move, the center slightly altered its design, eliminating an auditorium that had been in the original plans. There will be a multipurpose area that will be able to host 200 to 250 people at a seated event.

In a competitive design process, The Freelon Group based in North Carolina and the HOK Atlanta Inc. architectural and design firm were selected.

Their sustainable design was inspired by the well-recognized civil rights image of people interlocking arms — signifying the solidarity of the movement.

The center has made the design flexible so an auditorium can be added in a future expansion four to five years after it opens.
‘A project that matters’

Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin is co-chairing the board of the center, a project started during her administration.

“We believe that this is a project that matters and will help define what kind of world we want to live in the future,” said Franklin, who added that former Mayor Andrew Young and civil rights leaders the Rev. Joseph and Evelyn Lowery had urged her to champion the center as part of the city’s legacy.

“Over time, it has been proven that people are attracted to Atlanta because of the history of Atlanta and the Atlanta story,” Franklin said. “As mayor, as a former public official, I have had to think about what is unique about my place and my city. One is the intellectual engagement that causes action around democracy — that defines Atlanta.”

National Center for Civil & Human Rights
Open: October 2013
Cost: $100 million
Project Manager: Cousins Properties Inc./Gude Management Group LLC
Construction Manager: TBD
Architect: The Freelon Group of North Carolina and HOK Atlanta Inc.
Designer: George C. Wolfe and Gallagher & Associates
Funds raised to date: $75.5 million
Total square footage: 90,000 square feet

Maria Saporta

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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