With the College Football Hall of Fame opening in downtown Atlanta a year from now, John W. Stephenson Jr. could not be more excited.
“It’s going to be here soon,” Stephenson, president and CEO of the hall, said after speaking at the Buckhead Business Association’s weekly breakfast meeting Thursday at City Club of Buckhead. “The construction is on schedule. And the architectural interior design, which is behind construction by a couple of months, by design, is also on schedule. Everybody is so excited about it. A lot of the people who work for the hall are college football fans, so they’re not just punching a clock.”
Work on the hall, which is moving from South Bend, Ind., started in January. It is expected to open in early August 2014, and its grand opening will take place later that month to coincide with the annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game nearby at the Georgia Dome.
In 2009 the National Football Foundation, the organization that runs the hall, decided to move the facility from South Bend to Atlanta. The South Bend location, which opened in 1994, closed Dec. 30. The original hall was located in Kings Mill, Ohio, from 1972-94.
The hall is being built on Marietta Street on the site of the former Green parking lot for the Georgia World Congress Center. It will be within walking distance of several downtown attractions, including the Georgia Dome, the planned new Falcons stadium and the under-construction National Center for Civil and Human Rights. The hall will have an economic impact of $67.3 million for the city and state, according to its website.
It cost $66.5 million to build, with Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm, providing only $1 million in taxpayer dollars.
Following Stephenson’s speech, association member Dr. Michaela McKenzie asked if there were parking problems on the site, which has a limited number of spaces.
“It’s a huge issue down there,” the Sandy Springs resident said, adding he hopes patrons of other downtown venues would use the hall’s parking facility when it is not hosting events.
Stephenson said the hall will provide an eclectic mixture of the game’s rich history with cutting-edge technology.
“We’ll have plays from John Heisman’s original playbook scanned in and on display on an interactive monitor where visitors can check out his plays,” said Stephenson, referring to the legendary turn-of-the-20th-century coach who the coveted Heisman Trophy is named after.
He showed blueprints of the hall, which is moving from South Bend, Ind. Stephenson’s presentation also included a five-minute video of what it would be like for a pedestrian to tour the entire facility.
According to its website, the hall will have 94,256 square feet, including 30,000 square feet of exhibit space and a 45-yard indoor football field that doubles as an event space.
“You can look up Hall of Famers by year, school or name [on flat-screen computers],” Stephenson said. “You can see each player’s highlights, interviews, etc. It’s a totally different way to do things. We shopped this around with lots of Hall of Famers. They all said, to a man, this is great. You can actually see and hear me. We can stuff these things full of content as much as it will allow us. You can be a college football fan and spend all day here and not feel full.”
Stephenson said the hall will have 1,400 artifacts at its disposal, but only 400 will be on display each day and will be rotated in to keep the venue fresh.
He said the Chick-fil-A Bowl being one of the six bowls selected by the NCAA to host the national championship semifinals (and possibly the title game) in future years will help bring visitors to the hall.
“It’s a big deal for Atlanta,” he said.
Stephenson said the hall will “appeal to all college football fans.”
“Yes, this is the heart of SEC and ACC country, but we are the national College Football Hall of Fame,” he said. “When you enter, you will register as a fan of a certain school. If you’re an Ohio State fan, it will tell you how many Ohio State fans are there. There are 14 opportunities to get Ohio State-specific stuff [while visiting the hall]. If that weirds you out, don’t register. But there are chances to get a unique experience.”
In response to a woman’s question about the types of visitors the hall would get, Stephenson said, “You’ll have people come here just for this facility. 89,000 to 90,000 came [each year] when it was in South Bend,” he said, adding tickets would cost $17.50 per person.
Though it does not open for another year, the hall will host its 2013 inductee enshrinement ceremony next door at the Omni Hotel Aug. 28. Twenty-four former players and coaches are in this year’s class. Tickets are $200 and available through Aug. 21.