Great cities are often built by low-profile, consensus building leaders. Atlanta is about to lose one of the best when Dan Graveline retires Thursday as executive director of the Georgia World Congress Center.
Graveline came to the GWCC from the Los Angeles Convention Center in 1976 to oversee the myriad details that comprised the grand opening. As someone who has participated in the opening of convention facilities in Orlando and Nashville, I can tell you it’s something most folks would only want to do once. You have no life for 12 months except for work.
He spent the early 1980s developing the phase two expansion that doubled the size of the convention facility. Just a few years later, in addition to orchestrating a third-phase expansion, he simultaneously oversaw the development of the Georgia Dome.
Over the next four years he busied himself putting finishing touches on the newly expanded campus: acquiring land, developing beautifully landscaped parking lots and decks, completing an extension of upper International Boulevard and added International Plaza, which created a desperately needed pedestrian connection between the old Omni arena, the GWCC and the Dome.
Then there was that other small project he got involved with, Centennial Olympic Park.
While Billy Payne is rightly credited with the vision for the Park, whom did he call on to make the dream a reality? Dan Graveline. Graveline lived the daily grind of property acquisitions, condemnations and red tape to get the park ready for the Olympics. Then, less than a month after the games, he was deep into the post-games park design process. The beautiful, shining jewel that is today the model for a clean, safe, urban oasis has Graveline’s fingerprints all over it.
Remarkably, he’s done all of this as a state employee while serving five governors. Through his deft steering and tireless efforts, he kept the GWCC authority and its mission insulated from what could easily have been a political minefield.
He built consensus. He helped create thousands of jobs. He helped bring billions of dollars of economic impact to the state. He helped Atlanta earn its reputation as a sports mecca by landing Super Bowls, Final Four tournaments, SEC football championships, ACC basketball tournaments and more.
His approach to getting things done represents a fundamental, yet critical lesson that other leaders would do well to study if our city is to continue to thrive.
Graveline’s last day will be a 16-hour day, just like his first day back in 1977. As the excitement of the Chick fil-A Bowl comes to an end, he’ll quietly slip out and drive away with no fanfare. Much like he quietly built the GWCC campus into the awesome economic engine it is.
Carl Adkins is general manager for the Georgia World Congress Center.
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