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Column: Dan Cathy: Many saw vision of new JA Discovery Center

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Friday, August 23, 2013

Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A Inc., was beaming ear-to-ear as he witnessed the grand opening of Junior Achievement of Georgia’s state-of-the-art financial literacy and career readiness center at the Georgia World Congress Center on Aug. 20.

The Junior Achievement Chick-fil-A Foundation Discovery Center will welcome more than 30,000 middle school students from the Atlanta, Fulton, DeKalb and Marietta public school systems beginning Sept. 10 into a hands-on learning experience of how to manage money and how to explore career opportunities.

Dozens of companies, most of them based in Atlanta, will have storefronts in the JA BizTown and the JA Finance Park (SunTrust Banks and Delta Air Lines are key partners) so students can experience real-life situations and receive real-life tools that will help them be better prepared when they graduate.

And these are not just business lessons. The Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta and the United Way of Greater Atlanta have teamed up to provide a place for students to consider philanthropy when they are putting together their budgets or exploring possible careers.

“It’s a very humbling thing to have been involved with,” said Cathy, who was one of the instigators of getting the center built in Atlanta. The Chick-fil-A Foundation provided $5 million to cover the lease for the space in the GWCC for the next 10 years.

In all, Junior Achievement raised$15 million for the 50,000-square-foot Discovery Center, and 40 companies or organizations have signed on as partners.

“It is a tribute to so many people who saw the vision as well,” Cathy said during an interview after the ribbon-cutting. “This is one of the easiest things that I’ve been involved with from a funding standpoint. A lot of other people got infected with this disease.”

Consumer adviser Clark Howard said he grew up with a family that talked about the stock market at the dinner table. But children who grow up poor in Atlanta have little hope for upward mobility. The Discovery Center “is the ladder” for students to learn about business and entrepreneurship.

Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell said the center represents hope and optimism for young people who will see that they can do better with their lives.

“Let’s not make this a 10-year venture,” he said. “Let’s make this a forever venture.”

Cathy mentioned that Chick-fil-A is now bordering the GWCC with the Discovery Center on the west side and the College Football Hall of Fame on the east side across from Centennial Olympic Park.

Asked if he had other plans in the area, Cathy said it depends on where the new Atlanta Falcons stadium will be built and what plans Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank has in mind for the community.

“It will be a joy to partner with him,” said Cathy, who has explored establishing a comprehensive youth center in honor of his father in the Vine City neighborhood. “The challenges are so large here that we are going to have to partner together. This is larger than the public sector. It’s going to require free enterprise. The 30314 ZIP code is a challenging ZIP code.”

Olympia building bids

After not receiving even one bid in early 2012, the state of Georgia received seven different bids on Aug. 20 from developers wanting to buy the historic Olympia building at Five Points in downtown.

And two of the bids offered at least $2.2 million for the relatively small, triangular shaped two-story building that wasbuilt between 1935 and 1936 at 23 Peachtree St.

The highest bid was submitted by Encore Real Estate Development, which offered $2.23 million for the property.

The next highest bid was $2.2 million, and it was submitted by GLM Development Co.

The state of Georgia did not provide any more information on the bidders and what their plans would be for the property.

The state does have the flexibility to turn down the highest bidder or bidders if it does not approve of how the property would be used.

A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress — the downtown business organization, said the strong interest in the Olympia building is a good sign.

“We are very encouraged that the bidders have valued this historic building at Five Points in such an ambitious way,” Robinson said. “This bodes well for downtown real estate, and it’s a symbol that values us getting stronger, a lot stronger.”

Currently, there is a large circular Coca-Cola neon sign on top of the building, and it is located just a few feet away from where the soft drink was invented.

Bottlers’ centennial

The Coca-Cola Bottlers Association — an organization of independent Coca-Cola bottlers — celebrated its centennial anniversary on Aug. 19 at a celebration at the World of Coke.

“We represent the 69 independent Coca-Cola bottlers that still make up a quarter of the Coke volume across the nation,” John Gould, CCBA’s executive director, wrote in an email. “Most of these bottlers are still family owned and operated, and most can trace their roots back in the business four to five generations.”

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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