(Updated 7 p.m.)
The College Football Hall of Fame’s long-in-the-works move to Atlanta got a big boost Thursday, when organizers of the proposed downtown attraction assured a state agency that they have raised enough sponsorship commitments to move forward with construction.
The Georgia World Congress Center Authority board responded by passing a resolution that endorses proceeding with the project, which is planned for GWCCA property near Centennial Olympic Park.
“It’s definitely going to happen,” John Stephenson, interim CEO of Atlanta Hall Management, the organization overseeing the Hall of Fame’s proposed move here, said in an interview after the board vote.
The GWCCA board, in the first day of a two-day “planning retreat” at Lake Lanier Islands, also heard an update on negotiations for a proposed new Atlanta Falcons stadium, which would be built near the GWCCA-operated Georgia Dome.
A GWCCA attorney reviewed with the board the provisions in the current version of a non-binding term sheet on a stadium deal, most of which were reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week.
The attorney, Denis Braham, mentioned several issues on which the GWCCA and the Falcons have not reached an agreement. The “most significant open item,” he said, is the amount of the annual license payment — or rent – the Falcons would pay on the stadium to the GWCCA.
Another open issue involves the amount of money that would be deposited annually into a capital improvements fund after the stadium is built and the Falcons’ potential contribution to that fund. Another involves the GWCCA’s ability to use the site of the Georgia Dome, which would be demolished if a new stadium is built, for any purpose other than surface parking.
As previously reported, the term sheet states that the GWCCA would own the stadium, that the Falcons would “control” the stadium and its revenue streams under conditions of a 30-year license agreement, and that the GWCCA would continue to manage Georgia Dome “legacy events,” such as college football and basketball games, in the new facility.
The term sheet states that the Falcons/NFL would be responsible for all construction costs not covered by proceeds from a portion of Atlanta’s hotel-motel tax. Official projections of stadium cost have ranged from $948 million to $1.03 billion. Recent estimates of the hotel-motel tax contribution have been below $300 million.
The board was not asked to take any action regarding the stadium Thursday. Frank Poe, GWCCA executive director, cautioned that the negotiations remain a “work in progress.”
The goal, Poe said, is to complete the term sheet within a month and a more comprehensive agreement – a memorandum of understanding – by year’s end. The Falcons hope the stadium will open in 2017.
Meanwhile, the GWCCA’s action on the College Football Hall of Fame advanced a project that began with great fanfare when the National Football Foundation decided in September 2009 to move the museum to Atlanta from South Bend, Ind. Building the attraction here has been stalled by fund-raising challenges, and organizers early this year undertook a review of the entire project.
But on Thursday, Stephenson, who took over as the project’s leader late last year, told the GWCCA board that enough sponsorship and loan commitments have been secured to move forward.
He said Atlanta Hall Management has contracts for $51.5 million in sponsorships, $43 million of which would be collected during the construction period and the rest after opening the facility. AHM also has access to $22.5 million in loans through a syndicate of three banks, led by Regions.
Stephenson put the total cost of the project at $66.9 million.That figure does not include $15 million in state funding the GWCCA expects to secure for a parking deck, road work and a new entrance to the Congress Center through the Hall of Fame.
AHM signed a ground lease last year to build the Hall on GWCCA property – the “green” parking lot on Marietta Street next to the Omni hotel – but the lease included a clause requiring that sufficient funds be raised before construction could begin.
The resolution passed by the GWCCA board Thursday stated that the group “reviewed and confirmed Atlanta Hall Management’s evidence of sponsorship and financing in the amount to fully finance 100 percent of the construction.” The resolution authorized Poe to request that the State Properties Commission “determine that the financial contingency of the ground lease has been satisfied.”
If the State Properties Commission, the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission and the National Football Foundation sign off on various aspects of the plan at upcoming board meetings – all scheduled in early October – the GWCCA expects ground-breaking on the Hall of Fame late this year or early next year and an opening in late 2014.
Stephenson said the project has been reduced in size from original plans, “but not significantly.”
He would not name the corporate sponsors that have committed to the project, saying he is “being respectful” of their desire to announce it “in their own way.”
The National Football Foundation board several months ago reaffirmed its support of the Hall’s move to Atlanta.
“To their credit, they have been … tremendously patient with us,” Stephenson said. “But it’s because they know Atlanta is the right place for this.”
– Tim Tucker