Column: State fiscal crisis pits football hall, rights center

By Maria Saporta
Friday, March 12, 2010

When Gov. Sonny Perdue released his budget proposal earlier this year, it included $10 million in bond money to help build a College Football Hall of Fame but no money for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

That omission has raised some eyebrows among longtime Atlanta business and civil rights leaders.

Both projects are similar. They would be located around Centennial Olympic Park and would cost from $50 million to $100 million to build. Also, plans to build the Center for Civil and Human Rights have been in the works for several years, while the opportunity to develop a College Football Hall of Fame project only came about in the last year.

Inevitably the two projects have been linked, and people close to the College Football Hall of Fame have said their task to receive state funding has been complicated by the fact that the Center for Civil and Human Rights was not recommended for funding.

Bert Brantley, a spokesman for Perdue, said the difference is that the Hall of Fame project is a competitive one that could end up in another state if it doesn’t get funding while the Center for Civil Human Rights will be built in Atlanta either way.

“At the end of the day, it’s a difference in the process,” Brantley said of the two projects. “There was never a discussion that we would do one or the other. It should not be viewed as though we don’t support the [Center for Civil and Human Rights] project. It’s a wonderful project that will benefit Atlanta and Georgia. In better years, there probably would have been a different decision.”

Because of this year’s budget climate, state funding for the College Football Hall of Fame is not a sure bet.

“I really don’t think the Football Hall of Fame is going to survive this year,” said state Sen. Emanuel Jones, chairman of the Black Caucus. “In these austere times, I think a lot of people were quite surprised that the governor had included $10 million in his budget for the College Football Hall of Fame.”

Jones, who played football in college, supports both projects as ways to attract new dollars by promoting the clean tourism industry.

“If the governor is going to consider these type of expenditures, certainly both should be considered, not one or the other,” Jones said.

Several others agreed. “We are supportive of the College Football Hall of Fame,” said Doug Shipman, executive director of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. “We think both institutions represent opportunities for the state to gain national exposure [and] national visitors, and become long-term economic engines.”

About $65 million has been raised for the center, mostly through a $40 million tax allocation bond funding from the city of Atlanta. Once it has raised $85 million, it will break ground — ideally in 2010, which would permit it to open in 2012.

State funding would have been a key boost for the project, which has received major gifts from The Coca-Cola Co., Wachovia, Turner Broadcasting System Inc. and The Home Depot Inc. In 2009, the state did approve a tax exemption during the construction period.

“Now is not the time to make too many harsh judgments in this budget cycle,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who used to be a state senator. “Funding for the Center for Civil and Human Rights is a situation that’s going to require constant gardening. I think we will receive state funding once the economy turns around.”

Deloitte’s spring break

How did you spend your spring break? Deloitte LLP has an answer for 50 students from 30 colleges around the country. They were promoting literacy among children, enhancing child-care centers and refurbishing playgrounds for low-income youth.

The program, in its third year, is called the “alternative spring break.” Students from around the country traveled to Atlanta between March 6 and March 12 to work alongside Deloitte professionals while volunteering in the local community. The program helps the accounting firm learn more about its top recruiting targets.

A positive impact

The Elton John AIDS Foundation has donated a $40,000 grant to help Positive Impact provide in-house sexually transmitted disease screenings for gay and bisexual men.

“We are honored to receive our first grant from the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and in particular for support of a program which can enhance our efforts to reduce the transmission of both HIV and STDs in the gay and bisexual community of Atlanta,” Danny Sprouse, Positive Impact’s prevention director, said in a statement.

65 years for Day1

For 65 years, Day1 (and its predecessor organizations) have been offering religious radio broadcasts around the world.

Atlanta-based Day1 recently celebrated its 65th birthday by honoring several local leaders — Madeline and Howell Adams Jr., former CEO for Georgia Trane; Bill Bolling, executive director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank; S. Truett Cathy, CEO and founder of Chick-fil-A Inc.; Sally and Paul Rosser, chair of Rosser International; Nancy Gordy Sims, president of the Varsity; and Andrew Young.

Day1, a ministry of the Alliance for Christian Media, held a benefit at the Piedmont Driving Club on March 2 to support the weekly radio broadcasts, formerly known as the Protestant Hour.

Asbury CEO speaks

Charles Ogelsby, chairman and CEO of Asbury Automotive Group Inc., has no regrets moving the headquarters of the Fortune 500 company from New York to Duluth in 2008.

“We save approximately $5 million a year just moving from New York to here,” Ogelsby told a gathering of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce on March 5 as part of the Success Lives Here breakfast series. The move “gave us the ability to be closer to our customers.”

For Gwinnett, “the visibility of having a Fortune 500 headquarters has a positive impact,” Oglesby said.

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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