College football hall set for World Congress Center area

More than a year after snagging the College Football Hall of Fame from South Bend, Ind., the attraction's organizers are expected today to announce its new home will be on a 2.7-acre parcel on the Georgia World Congress Center campus downtown.

In a deal that will pay the GWCC Authority $700,000 annually, the hall will be built on the parking lot facing Marietta Street and diagonal from Centennial Olympic Park.

Gary Stokan, president and chief executive officer of Atlanta Hall Management, said the Congress Center site allows for a 225-space parking lot and and low-rise building, which industry leaders say works better than a multi-level facility. The site also is in an area frequented by conventioneers.

It was chosen over a competing site on Harris Street, which was smaller and would have required a vertical building.

"The good news is new have a site," Stokan said. "We can start fund-raising, which we put off for nine months."

Stokan will be in New York in January to meet with sponsors and the National Football Foundation, which owns the hall. So far, he has about $31 million in commitments, including $5 million from the Chick-fil-A Bowl, $1 million from the Atlanta Development Authority and $10 million for the state of Georgia in general obligation bonds.

The state bonds are for land acquisition and improvements. Stokan said the plan is to use the bonds to extend Baker Street, close Foundry Street and build a connection between the hall and the GWCC's Building A.

LaRhonda Jackson, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Economic Development, which will administer the funding, said the construction is allowed under the bond terms.

Tim Calkins, a Northwestern University branding expert, said having a site and renderings moves the project from the idea phase to specifics.

"A rendering gives sponsors a flavor of how prominent the building will be and what it has to offer,'" he said.

It's also critical because tight budgets and a struggling economy has stigmatized the term "sports sponsorship," said Bob Hope, president of Atlanta's Hope-Beckham public relations firm.

"Companies are putting a lot more scrutiny on every financial move they make," he said.

Like the Georgia Aquarium, the building's interior will have a spoke-and-wheel design that lets visitors decide what part they want to visit after entering a central common area, Stokan said. The exterior will resemble a football, including its texture, he said.