College Football Hall of Fame needs $20 million by year end

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.”

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.

10 replies
  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    It’s interesting to compare this project with the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte. Here’s a weblink:

    NASCAR was supposed to be a slam dunk, as is the College Football Hall of Fame. Instead, NASCAR has been a financial black hole since it opened, and ticket sales are 64% below estimates.

    In Charlotte, the taxpayers are on the hook for all of the shortfall. Hopefully, that is not the case in Atlanta.


    • snowmar says:

       @Burroughston Broch In order to lock Charlotte in as the home of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, they inflated the front-end projections for yearly visits. Charlotte got the bid by putting forth a plan and construction they said would bring 800k visitors per year.  Charlotte screwed themselves and now they are paying for it. The NASCAR HOF project  cost Charlotte about 120 million dollars. The College Football HOF project in Atlanta comes in under 70 million. Atlanta’s front-end projections are on the conservative side, whereas in Charlotte, the projections were grossly over-estimated. Atlanta’s population, about double that of Charlotte, and College Football’s popularity advantage over NASCAR, should also keep Atlanta from suffering the same results as Charlotte.Report

      • Burroughston Broch says:

         @snowmar Check the latest NASCAR figures and you will find that ticket sales have dropped even more.
        It sounds to me that you’re saying, “It couldn’t happen here.” That’s exactly what Charlotte said, and look where they are. You are repeating the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce mantra, while the College Football HOF is saying nothing – I just checked Google and their website.
        I hope that this potential white elephant goes elsewhere – we have enough already.Report

        • snowmar says:

           @Burroughston Broch It could happen in Atlanta. However, there are important differences between the two. Getting the NASCAR HOF was a bidding process won by Charlotte, in my opinion, by stroking the ego of NASCAR instead of being realistic about the number of potential visitors the venue would receive. When you spend the money on a facility to accommodate 800k visitors and you’re only getting 250k visitors,  you have a problem. Now, either the people in charge of planning were incompetent, or they were going to do whatever it took to win the bid and deal with the fall-out later. Gary Stokan is on record saying Charlotte was crazy building a venue that size for NASCAR and there was no way they would receive the amount of traffic projected. Charlotte wanted to be the site of the NASCAR HOF at any cost and now they are paying the price.
          Like I said earlier, it could happen in Atlanta, but Atlanta Hall Management seems to be playing it conservative. They are spending 40% less money, in a city with twice the population, on a sport far more popular in this country.Report

        • Burroughston Broch says:

           @snowmar The College Football HOF is not the only potential white elephant and millstone around the taxpayer’s neck in the same neighborhood. The National Center for Civil & Human Rights is in the same situation, and fighting for many of the same potential donors.
          I suspect that the College Football HOF will come out last in this fight.Report

        • snowmar says:

           @Burroughston Broch If your concern is burden on the taxpayers, the new stadium for the Falcons is a much bigger elephant. The GA Dome isn’t fully paid for yet and they want tax money to build a new stadium pushing a billion dollar price tag.Report

        • Burroughston Broch says:

           @snowmar My concern is for the taxpayers. If Arthur Blank and his cohorts were to build it with all private funds, I’d have no problem with it. You and I both know that isn’t going to happen.Report

  2. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    After beating out Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones and his what would have likely been a self-financed or close to self-financed “Jerryworld” bid for the Hall, I sure would like to see this project be successful, especially since, on paper, Atlanta has all of the demographics and the location to make it work being in the heart of the SEC (the conference that has won the last five National Titles in college football) and football country in general with such a large presence of alumni and fans of nearly all of the football-crazed SEC schools, the ACC, the Big Ten, the HBCU conferences (the MEAC & the SWAC), etc.

    The only problem with Atlanta is trying to raise funds and obtain monetary contributions from the always-divergent business community and all of the disparate factions who might otherwise be active financial supporters in a brutal economy whereas in Dallas most, if not all, of the funding was available and ready to go at the hand of one Mr. Jerry Jones, himself.

    This is one of those times where having a domineering do-it-yourself civic figure like Dallas’ Jerry Jones would come in handy for Atlanta instead of all of the numerous smaller separate factions in a regional economy that was hit much harder by the economic downturn than was Dallas-Fort Worth and North Texas.Report

  3. Burroughston Broch says:

    Perhaps Mr. Arthur Blank might contribute, since $20million is a small portion of his estimated $1.3billion net worth and since it might be in his economic self-interest.

    But on the other hand, he has been poor mouthing lately, hoping to get the taxpayers to pay to build him a new football stadium.Report


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