By Maria Saporta and Lisa Schoolcraft
Friday, Sept. 23, 2011
The College Football Hall of Fame is racing against the clock to raise another $20 million before the end of the year so it can break ground in February.
Supporters have raised $22 million thus far for the project, which is expected to cost a total of $67.5 million.
And a trio of banks just agreed to provide a $27.5 million loan to help fund the Hall of Fame during construction. The loan, which is being secured by sponsorships pledges and donations, is being led by Regions Bank and includes Fifth Third Bank and BB&T.
But the attraction still needs to raise $20 million in donations by the end of the year in order to get started.
“We were presented with what we felt was a great opportunity if the project was structured properly,” said Bill Linginfelter, area president for Georgia and South Carolina for Regions Bank and 2010 chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber. “We have a group of banks that have gotten together to fund it based on certain things happening. One of those is being successful in raising money.”
A major appeal is being made to the Atlanta business community to raise the needed $20 million, according to Gary Stokan, president and CEO of Atlanta Hall Management, which holds the license for the College Football Hall of Fame and will operate the attraction.
Stokan said he and others are trying to put together a summit of Atlanta CEOs to spark donations for the project.
Among the executives who would be part of the appeal are those who have demonstrated support for the project, Stokan said. That includes Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A Inc.; Paul Bowers, president and CEO of Georgia Power Co.; Robin Loudermilk, CEO of Aaron Rents Inc.; Rick Smith, CEO of Equifax Inc.; and Linginfelter.
“We have been encouraging the College Football Hall of Fame folks to get a champion who can lead the effort for fundraising, a champion beyond Dan Cathy and Gary Stokan,” Bowers said. “In the next several months, we need to have some level of commitment that the general community of givers is willing to support this or not.”
The Georgia Power Foundation has committed to give $2.5 million to the attraction, which is slated to be located on what is now a parking lot owned by the Georgia World Congress Center overlooking Centennial Olympic Park.
Atlanta-based Aaron’s Inc. (NYSE: AAN) also is working on a sponsorship with the College Football Hall of Fame, according to Mark Rudnick, vice president of marketing.
Chick-fil-A has been a partner in the project since the beginning, contributing $6 million. Spokesman Don Perry did not say whether the company will contribute more money to it.
“We have been and remain excited to be a part of the planning and a catalyst for the funding of the project,” Perry said.
Stokan said he also has several other possible sponsorships “in the pipeline.”
Stokan’s group needs the $20 million so it can enter into a lease agreement with the Georgia World Congress Center and the State Properties Commission.
“We are very confident in this project,” said Mark Geiger, a spokesman for the GWCC. “But before the ground lease is executed, we need to ensure that the financing is in place. We just want to make sure there’s sufficient evidence of project funding to cover the construction costs.”
Stokan agreed: “We want to show the GWCC and the governor that we have a fully funded project.”
Timing is critical because the current College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind., is slated to close at the end of 2012. The National Football Foundation, which owns the rights to the Hall of Fame and voted two years ago to relocate to Atlanta, does not want the attraction to go dark for longer than a year.
Stokan said the construction schedule calls for the Hall to actually open for the enshrinement ceremony scheduled for Aug. 30, 2013, in advance of the Kickoff Game.
“We need to be able to show that we are significantly on the way to give assurance to the foundation that this is a reality for Atlanta,” Bowers said. “The football foundation is setting what their expectations are. It wants to know if there is real commitment to get this done, if there is enough momentum.”
Later Bowers added: “The reality is that if we don’t get the momentum here, there is an expectation they would go someplace else. We are at a critical juncture.”
Stokan said the $27.5 million bank loan is key. It is expected to close in mid-October just before the Oct. 19 board meeting of the National Football Foundation in Dallas, which was one of the cities that had competed for the Hall in 2009.
The down economy has hurt fundraising.
“I think its a great project for Atlanta,” said Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber. “The challenge right now is that these are the worst economic times, and unfortunately as I understand it, deadlines are fast approaching.”
Stokan, who also is president and CEO of the Chick-fil-A Bowl, said there is a backup plan. The Bowl, which already has contributed $5 million to the project, could tap into some of its reserves to help cover a fundraising gap. But Stokan would not say how much money the Bowl has in its reserves.
“It is very a complex project,” Stokan acknowledged. “At the end of the day this is a true public-private partnership with the city, the state and private corporations involved with the process.”
But it is not a done deal until the money is raised.
As Bowers said, “It’s important for the city that everybody gives it one good effort so everybody can walk away with the satisfaction that we got it done or that we gave it our best shot.”