Inside (literally) Georgia Tech’s new football lobby

Georgia Tech’s football office has a gleaming new lobby. Coach Paul Johnson has, among others, Atlanta’s new soccer team to thank.

The space where recruits visiting on game days are welcomed received a makeover over the summer that cost a little more than $500,000, freshening up a room that was functional if unmemorable. It debuted the day of the Yellow Jackets’ home opener against Jacksonville State, an area with a towering trophy case, eye-catching displays and more polish than the old version. More recruits will visit Saturday, when Tech plays North Carolina.

“Like we’ve said before, anytime with facilities, if you’re not doing anything, you’re falling further and further behind, and that place hadn’t been touched in a long time,” Johnson said.

Atlanta United kicked in $275,000. The team’s rental agreement with Tech to use Bobby Dodd Stadium before the opening of Mercedes-Benz Stadium included a clause earmarking that amount for locker-room accommodations (Atlanta United used Tech’s locker room). A new locker room has been on Johnson’s wish list for several years – it was last renovated in 2003 – and the project is in the works, but it will cost many times Atlanta United’s contribution. The rest of the cost was covered with net profits from the Atlanta United agreement.

A new lobby dovetailed with athletic director Todd Stansbury’s strategy to update the Edge and Rice centers – Tech’s athletics headquarters – as they’re often the first place where recruits are received. He wants to make better use of the spaces to make a stronger first impression.

“That’s what we chose to use it for – for recruiting, to help modernize the entrance and spruce up,” Johnson said.

The lobby, which is underneath the north stands of Bobby Dodd Stadium and opens onto Callaway Plaza, had had graphic elements added to it in the past several years. The two-story entry room – team meeting areas and the locker room are on the first floor through the lobby, while coaches’ offices are on the second floor – had a glass entrance, white walls on two sides and exposed brick on a third. The walls were decorated with posters and collages featuring action photos and touting Tech’s football history and its Atlanta location.

But it was hardly eye-catching, wasn’t cohesive and showed its age. One framed graphic asking “Why Georgia Tech?” included an answer noting the proximity to Atlanta’s pro teams, including the Thrashers, who left town in 2011. A wooden locker in the corner showcased Tech’s uniforms.

“We have such a unique history and tradition when it comes to Georgia Tech football and what we had in there kind of fell flat,” said Derek Grice, associate athletic director for facilities, operations and events. “We were kind of looking for new ways to display that, something that would resonate with not only the recruits that come in, and visitors, but also a place that our players and staff could take pride in.”

Grice worked with included Johnson, football operations director Mike Huff and player personnel director Andy Lutz, sharing ideas on what they’d seen elsewhere that they liked and what they wanted in the lobby. Tech hired Jack Porter, a design firm in Greenville, S.C., with a specialty in college athletics facilities. The firm’s work includes the design of Clemson’s $55 million football operations building, complete with slide, barber shop and nap room.

Johnson’s requests?

“He just wanted to make sure they accurately tell their story,” said Tony Jones, a Jack Porter vice president. “He just wanted to, ‘Make it us, don’t make it anybody else.’”

In the new lobby, visitors are greeted by a six-panel video board set into a cherry laminate wall and framed by horizontal stripes of backlit gold lighting. The lighting is a fun touch; the lighting elements extend to the corner of the wall, where they are shaped to spell out “Yellow Jackets” in the adjoining wall.

“That’s the first time we’ve ever done that,” Jones said.

The lighting feature is duplicated on another wall highlighting Tech’s accomplishments, including national championships, conference championships, bowl appearances and NFL alumni. On a side wall, which had featured a collage of notable Atlanta sites but was mostly bare, is a trophy case, perhaps 15 feet high. The centerpiece is the 2014 Orange Bowl trophy, filled with oranges. By the elevator are three mannequins wearing the team’s three uniform combinations, a spot that may gain more attention when Tech switches to Adidas next year.

Additional work was done upstairs, including a wall that lists, by team, every Tech player to ever sign an NFL contract.

The job began in late April. The Thursday before the Jacksonville State game, workers stayed overnight to finish up by Friday morning so the lobby would be ready by Saturday morning. Two players, defensive end Antonio Simmons and linebacker Terrell Lewis, offered their approval Monday.

“It’s really nice,” Lewis said.

Spending half a million dollars to make a positive impression on 17-year-old football players may seem exorbitant and perhaps ludicrous. But it’s the world of college athletics, not a realm that always makes much sense outside of it. And, for better or worse, it’s a drop in the bucket to what some of Tech’s ACC competitors are spending. But perhaps any home seller who has ever spruced up the front yard to enhance curb appeal might appreciate the motivation.

Next on Johnson’s wish list, besides the locker room, is more staff for the recruiting office.

Also, “If you’re not doing something with the weight room, you’re falling behind,” he said.

And, a few years down the road, the lobby probably will need another update.