State could soon own former World of Coke, but its future is uncertain

Nine years after buying the former World of Coke building in downtown Atlanta, the state is finally hoping to get the land it sits on.

But state officials who once planned to turn it into a state history museum say they still don’t know what will become of the building.

And it will likely cost the state millions of dollars to either rehab it after nine years of sitting idle or raze it.

Former state Sen. George Hooks, a lobbyist for historic preservation groups, and state Rep. Joe Wilkinson, R-Sandy Springs, said it’s been several years since the push to turn the facility into a history museum had any steam.

“It’s bubbled up and bubbled down so many times it’s not on the radar anymore,” Hooks said.

The state would get the land, along with the Bobby Jones Golf Course, as part of an exchange for property that would give the city control of a parking deck and other state-owned land near Underground Atlanta, an area targeted by the city for redevelopment. That deal hasn’t been finalized.

The state bought the building nine years ago for $1.1 million when the World of Coke moved to a larger facility at Centennial Olympic Park. The city owns the land the former World of Coke sits on, a block from the Capitol and next to Underground Atlanta.

Governors, lawmakers and history buffs have tried to fund a state history museum in the past, but each time money for the project has been cut out of proposed state budgets.

Fresh from winning a second term in the mid-1990s, Gov. Zell Miller included $4.2 million in his 1996 budget to design a 300,000-square-foot museum and library on Capitol Avenue. He later vetoed the money when a report projected the museum’s price tag at $125 million, an amount the governor termed “outrageous.”

After the state bought the former soft drink shrine, Gov. Sonny Perdue proposed borrowing money to turn it into a history museum, but lawmakers balked.

The cost of fixing up the building was estimated at $17 million in 2011.

Gov. Nathan Deal in 2013 weighed whether to put money into creating a history museum as part of a broader plan to make Capitol Hill into a pedestrian-friendly tourist attraction. But the money was never appropriated.

“It’s been frustrating,” said Wilkinson, who served on a committee looking at the creation of a state history museum.

State lawmakers had a brief fling with state museums in the 1990s and early 2000s. But the Great Recession and low attendance killed state funding for golf, music and sports halls of fame in Augusta and Macon, while a state agriculture museum in Tifton remains open.

Hooks, a former longtime Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, said the potential cost of rehabbing the Coke building, which has only grown since earlier estimates were made, remains a roadblock. Even with an improved state economy and budget outlook.

“The problem with that World of Coke building is it would have to be renovated at a tremendous cost,” he said. “The idea is still there, but it’s way on the back burner.”

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