By Maria Saporta and Lisa Schoolcraft
Friday, November 12, 2010
The College Football Hall of Fame appears to have selected its preferred site in Atlanta — a parking lot owned by the Georgia World Congress Center along Marietta Street.
The “Green Lot” is located across from Centennial Olympic Park and is one of the prime locations in the area.
Frank Poe, director of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, said several issues would need to be worked out before a deal is struck with the College Football Hall of Fame, which would move from its current home in South Bend, Ind.
“It’s a parking lot that generates revenue,” Poe said. “We need to be made whole.”
Also, the GWCC had been eyeing that site as a way to reorient the convention center’s front door toward Centennial Olympic Park and Marietta Street. Currently, the center fronts along Andrew Young International Boulevard and Northside Drive.
Poe said it still would be important for the GWCC to have access to Marietta Street whether the attraction is located there or not.
“Worst-case scenario, if the Hall of Fame were to decide to do something differently, we would want to have influence on the design so we could secure connectivity to the building,” Poe said.
Another possible site for the Hall of Fame is a parking lot at the corner of Centennial Olympic Park Drive and Harris Street, overlooking the park.
Poe said a series of steps lie ahead for both the College Football Hall of Fame and the GWCC. The attraction needs to raise enough money to prove that it’s a viable project. It is estimated that the Hall of Fame would cost $50 million to $75 million, depending on the scale and the site.
So far, most of the funding that the project has raised has been in bonds that would have to be repaid as well as new market tax credits. The state of Georgia has approved $10 million in general obligation bonds. The Atlanta Development Authority and SunTrust Banks Inc. also have agreed to participate with new market tax credits for the project.
The cash donations that have been raised include Chick-fil-A Inc.’s pledge of $5 million toward the project, and The Coca-Cola Co. reportedly has promised $2.5 million in cash and $5.5 million in marketing dollars.
Gary Stokan, who is coordinating the College Football Hall of Fame project, did not return repeated phone calls.
However, people close to Stokan have said that he believes he needs to have a site in place before companies and other funders will sign on.
But that also is a bit of a chicken-or-egg situation.
“If it winds up on Marietta, we have to have assurances that the funding is in place,” Poe said.
That said, Poe said there would be great opportunities for cross-promotion and collaboration between the Hall of Fame attraction and the convention center.
“If it were to be located there, convention groups, they could book their banquets, receptions,” Poe said. “We are trying to figure out how we can frame a business structure that assures there’s mutual benefit to both parties.”
No matter what, negotiations between the GWCC and the attraction will take time.
“If they come to us and say, ‘We really want this location’ and our board agrees, there will be discussion of business relationships and conditions,” Poe said. “It would probably be an eight- to 10-month process to get a final deal.”
All of these discussions are occurring at a time when Hall of Fame attractions, including the College Football Hall of Fame, are having problems with attendance.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C., which opened in May, is already running a deficit this fiscal year, and has struggled with attendance.
Attendance in July and August totaled 55,000, with 16,000 in September and roughly 25,000 in October. The museum’s attendance goal of 600,000 per year would require about 50,000 visitors per month.
The World Golf Hall of Fame south of Jacksonville, Fla., has struggled with its attendance, too.
That Hall of Fame decided to move its 2011 induction ceremony to coincide with The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., in an attempt to boost attendance and recognition.
It’s a growing national trend for museums, which have seen declining attendance and funding in the past few years.
“The good news about Hall of Fame museums is they operate as some form of monopoly,” said George Van Horn, a senior analyst with IBISWorld, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based consumer research firm.
Hall of Fame museums typically have an agreement with a sports entity like NASCAR or Major League Baseball “and do not have a lot of direct competition,” he said. “That’s the good news.”
The bad news, Van Horn said, is these types of museums are “really an extension of that [sporting or entertainment] association for marketing purposes and are not purely driven by a profit motive.”
The museum industry, with projected $7.2 billion in revenue in 2010, is also very sensitive to changes in tourism and travel.
Growth in the museum industry is constrained because of the industry’s maturity and the growing demand on consumers’ leisure time and discretionary spending.
“Hall of Fames by themselves are targeting unique niches, and whether it be tied to sports or more entertainment activities, they are all just targeting the most loyal and ardent fans,” Van Horn said. “Those ardent fans are being pulled to spend on other things, too.”