Civil Rights Center moves forward after long delay

The National Center for Civil and Human Rights expects to break ground June 27, almost four years after the city of Atlanta's economic development arm approved a large portion of the project's funding.

In a meeting Monday, officials with the center, which will be constructed next to the World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium in downtown Atlanta, unveiled a rendering for a $65 million, 35,000-square-foot facility that is just more than one-third the size of the 90,000 square feet leaders envisioned when the idea was originally hatched.

The center was forced to downsize and move forward or risk losing $28.5 million in Westside tax allocation district funds. A July 2008 agreement with Invest Atlanta, formerly the Atlanta Development Authority, stipulated that project be fully funded and ready for construction by June 2012 or the funding would be rescinded.

A tax allocation district, or TAD, is funded by a portion of property taxes collected in a geographic area. Those taxes are used to fund economic development projects that benefit the geographic area where the tax is collected.

"It was important to us to get started because we didn't want to delay this gift to the community," said Deborah Richardson, executive vice president of the center.

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The center's construction, like those of several planned area attractions, has been delayed by fund-raising difficulties brought on by the sour economy. What many had hoped would be a two-to-three year project has taken six years so far.

Other projects finding it difficult to raise fundsinclude the College Football Hall of Fame, the National Health Museum and a concert hall for Atlanta Symphony.

In spring 2011, Center for Civil and Human Rights leaders announced the initial size of the facility would be reduced, dropping from 90,000 square feet to 63,000 square feet. The opening was delayed to 2014 and the amount of its endowment was downsized to $15 million from $25 million.

In December, center leaders decided to build the project in three phases. The first phase, which begins this month, will open Memorial Day 2014. The cost and timing of the next phases will depend on fundraising.

Invest Atlanta in January agreed to change the terms of the original contract to allow the museum to be built in phases instead of all at once as originally planned.

Overall, the city has a $40 million stake in the attraction. The first $11.5 million was dedicated to buying a collection of papers by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that are to be a centerpiece of the museum.

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