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Music, sports halls of fame may be relocated

Atlanta Journal-Constitution - April 28, 2010 - by Leon Stafford


Atlanta could be the new home to the state halls of fame for music and sports.

But so could Valdosta, Rome or Savannah.

A Georgia House bill that passed late Tuesday raised the possibility that the two struggling Macon attractions could be relocated.

HB 523 seeks requests for proposals from any Georgia city or county -- including Macon and Bibb County -- that wants to build and operate either or both of the attractions without state funding.

The move is intended to further state efforts to get out of the business of running or financially supporting halls of fame. The attractions have gotten as much as 70 percent of their budgets from the state.

The bill came the same day the House agreed to sell land that had been slated for the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame in Augusta. The measure was expected to go to the Senate on Wednesday.

Atlanta’s interest in making a pitch for the music and sports halls was muted Wednesday. Hospitality leaders said the city has its hands full trying to raise money for proposed facilities with national pull, such as the Center for Human and Civil Rights, the College Football Hall of Fame and a National Health Museum.

“From a tourism perspective all of these have a higher potential economic impact,” said Ken Bernhardt, a professor of marketing at Georgia State University and chairman of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Neither (the Georgia music or sports halls) have the same national desirability.”.

Paul Breslin, president of Panther Hospitality and former general manager of the Sheraton Atlanta, said the properties are attractive, but the state needs to offer some support, even if it’s in the form of marketing dollars or the waiving impact fees.

“(The halls) could make a profit in Atlanta, but it may not be enough to convince someone to take the risk,” he said.

The halls troubles were highlighted late last year when the Music Hall faced closure if $225,000 could not be raised. Fundraising efforts eventually secured the funds, but it raised questions about sustainability.

A.J. Robinson, head of Central Atlanta Progress, said the best solution is for the attractions to stay put. Raising money is tough right now and finding new facilities would be difficult, he said.

“I think all of us would say it would be very unfortunate if they couldn’t stay in Macon and thrive,” he said.

Rep. Jim Cole (R -- Forsyth), who sponsored the legislation, said the halls must be self-sufficient.

“This is not to say they are leaving Macon” he said. “They (Macon leaders) will have the opportunity to prove it to us like everyone else that they can operate it without state support. But Augusta could submit the RFP. So could Atlanta, or Columbus.”

Tim Mescon, president of Columbus State University, said the state has no choice but to get out of the halls of fame business. As the attractions struggled over time, they sought more state support.

“It was one thing to provide seed capital, it’s another to provide operating revenues,” he said.

Now the challenge will be convincing the legislature that a new owner and operator can succeed where others have failed.

“You can see the possibility for everybody, but you need the start-up capital to make it viable,” he said.