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Mayor Kasim Reed on Cyclorama: ‘Doing nothing isn’t an option’

By Maria Saporta and Amy Wenk
Friday, May 25, 2012

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is determined to restore the Cyclorama into a significant attraction for the city.

But he has yet to decide on the best location for the Cyclorama, a historical three-dimensional depiction of one of the most important confrontations of the Civil War — the Battle of Atlanta.

The mayor established a Cyclorama task force last September to give several stakeholders an opportunity to explore the various options for the panoramic painting, which is in serious need of repair.

Leaders of the task force met with the mayor on May 10 to share their findings.

In an exclusive interview, Reed said three options are on the table — restoring the Cyclorama at its current location at Grant Park next to Zoo Atlanta; relocating it to the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead; or moving it to a downtown location near the other major tourist attractions.
Because the Cyclorama is owned by the city, the mayor and the Atlanta City Council will ultimately decide where to locate it and how extensive a project it will be.

“Doing nothing isn’t an option for me,” Reed said. “In the last 20 years, the Cyclorama has not been funded in a way to succeed.”

Reed said he was especially intrigued by the idea of keeping the Cyclorama at Grant Park and, through the investment of a “significant cash infusion,” turning the current building into a special events facility.

“There are different groups of citizens that have strong ideas of where it should it be located,” Reed said. “My view is being informed by the public right now, and I will make a decision. I don’t need to go to any outside parties other than philanthropic ones.”

Reed also made it clear that a Cyclorama restoration project would have to be put in the “queue” behind the development of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and the College Football Hall of Fame — projects that are far along in terms of fundraising and design.

The Center for Civil and Human Rights is supposed to have its groundbreaking in June, and the College Football Hall of Fame is scheduled to open at the end of 2014, which means construction would have to begin within a year.

Reed said it is estimated that restoring the Cyclorama could cost $5 million to $45 million, depending on where it is located and how extensive the restoration will be.

“We are going to be consulting with one to three private-sector firms to give us advice on what would be involved,” Reed said. “I want them to give me their best thinking on what it would take to make it a world-class attraction. I’m not going to do anything in either of these locations that would be mediocre.”

Strong feelings exist on where the Cyclorama should be located.
The Atlanta History Center has offered to have the Cyclorama relocated to a site on its campus. But the center has said it would not be able to contribute financially to its restoration.

“We do believe we would be a great location for the Cyclorama,” said Sheffield Hale, president and CEO of the Atlanta History Center, who served on the task force. “We believe it would be very appropriate to have it here, but this is a decision for the mayor and City Council to make. It’s obviously going to require a significant investment from the community. We don’t have a pot of money sitting around. That’s why it needs to be a community decision.”

A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, a downtown business organization, applauded the work of the task force. He also said there are several options that exist downtown where the Cyclorama could add to the current cluster of tourist attractions.

One option the mayor has talked about is the old World of Coke, which is located between Underground Atlanta and the State Capitol. The state of Georgia has talked about turning that building into a Georgia History Museum.

“That’s an area I’m willing to explore,” Reed said, adding that the Cyclorama in that location would be part of the tourism and convention corridor. “I’m going to investigate that with the state.”

Reed has developed a close relationship with top state leaders, including Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston. The state, however, has not yet moved forward on its plans for a Georgia History Museum.

“The mayor is absolutely right to seek some private-sector expertise in the attraction business,” said Robinson, who also served on the task force.
“The question is whether you can restore the appeal of the Cyclorama as an attraction in today’s world. It’s all about sustainability,” Robinson added. “And the mayor is right to explore with the state. We are glad to see that all the options, including the ones downtown, are still on the table.”

Raymond King, president and CEO of Zoo Atlanta, who also served on the task force, said the zoo is neutral on where the Cyclorama should be located and that the zoo “does not want to get out in front of the mayor” by talking about the various options.

“Having said that, I am on record as saying that should the property become available at any point, we certainly have interest in it,” King wrote in an email.

Atlanta City Councilwoman Carla Smith, whose district includes Grant Park, said much of the community wants the attraction to stay put. The painting has been shown at Grant Park since 1893 and was moved to its current location in 1921.

Smith said she wants what’s best for the Cyclorama and would aid the community in fundraising to keep it at Grant Park.

“What we need to do is start a ‘Friends of the Cyclorama’ group,” Smith said. “I will work with them to step up to the plate and make it successful for Grant Park. The community needs to come together.”

If the decision is to keep the Cyclorama where it is or to relocate it to a downtown location, Reed said he is open to partnering with the Atlanta History Center to be involved with the project.

“That would be a big decision that would require a lot of thought and study,” Hale said about that possibility. “We are always open to helping the city promote the Cyclorama wherever it is located. It’s a very important artifact for the city of Atlanta. If the mayor can find a way for this artifact to be saved, restored and sustainable, we are for it.”

But Hale added that he believed the history center “would be excellent stewards” of the Cyclorama if it were to be located on its campus.

Ultimately, the decision will come down to raising the money to restore and potentially relocate the attraction. Reed said the city may have some ways to help contribute to that cost.

“Every single tool that the city of Atlanta has is going to be on the table,” Reed said. “Once we decided on a path, every tool that the city has will becom

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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