The National Football Foundation, which three years ago decided to move its College Football Hall of Fame to Atlanta, received reassurance this week that the long-delayed attraction will be built here.
“I think it’s fair to say that all systems are go,” Steve Hatchell, National Football Foundation president and CEO, said.
Hatchell offered that assessment in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the NFF board, at a meeting Wednesday in Dallas, heard an update from the Atlanta group spearheading the Hall of Fame project.
“We were happy with what we heard,” Hatchell said. “… We’ve been after this since 2009 and our guys were very anxious to be able to say, ‘Things are really going to happen.’ And that was the report we got.”
John Stephenson, interim CEO of Atlanta Hall Management, the non-profit entity formed to build and manage the downtown football shrine, reported to the NFF board that enough sponsorship and loan commitments have been secured to proceed with construction.
Recent votes by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority board and Georgia’s State Properties Commission have cleared the way for construction to begin on GWCCA/state property near Centennial Olympic Park, Stephenson told NFF board members.
“They’ve been waiting very patiently to hear the news we got to deliver to them … that the project is green-lighted,” Stephenson said.
He reported to the NFF board that Atlanta Hall Management has signed contracts for $51.5 million in sponsorships — $43 million of it to be collected before the facility opens — and has lined up $22.5 million in bank loans. AHM hasn’t named the sponsors publicly, saying companies want to announce on their own timetables.
Stephenson put the cost of the project at $66.9 million. That doesn’t include $15 million in state funding that the GWCCA, a state agency, expects to secure for a parking deck, road work and a new entrance to the Congress Center’s Building A, which is adjacent to the hall site. The site is the Congress Center’s 2.7-acre “Green” parking lot on Marietta Street.
The next steps, Stephenson said, are to complete architectural drawings and set a date to begin construction. Originally targeted to open this year and later targeted for 2013, the Hall of Fame now plans an opening in late 2014.
“I think we all got frustrated with the timing on it,” said Hatchell, referring to the delays. “… But I never really felt — and I don’t think a lot of our guys felt — that it was in jeopardy.”
Fund-raising problems were the major cause of delay. Amid those problems, the project underwent a leadership change late last year, when Stephenson, an Atlanta lawyer, took over from Gary Stokan. Early this year, AHM undertook a reexamination of the entire project.
The Dallas-based NFF, which owns the Hall of Fame, voted in September 2009 to move the attraction to Atlanta from South Bend, Ind., where attendance has been poor. The South Bend facility will close by the end of this year. Exhibits will be stored until the hall reopens in Atlanta.
Stephenson was accompanied to the NFF meeting by GWCCA executive director Frank Poe, other GWCCA officials and AHM chairman Steve Robinson, who is Chick-fil-A’s executive vice president of marketing.
– Tim Tucker