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College Football Hall of Fame to move to Atlanta

Jenn Metz | Thursday, September 24, 2009

South Bend Mayor Stephen Luecke confirmed the College Football Hall of Fame will be relocated to Atlanta, Ga., and expressed disappointment about the move in a press conference Wednesday morning.

“The Hall of Fame has been a great asset for our community, providing national exposure and contributing to the revitalization of downtown,” he said.

The National Football Foundation (NFF) sent a termination notice to Luecke Tuesday and officials also traveled to South Bend to share the decision in person.

The NFF wrote of the decision to relocate in the notice: “We take this action not because of any failure on your part, but because we now have an opportunity to take the exposure of the Hall of Fame to an entirely new level.”

The news of the relocation first broke Tuesday, according to a South Bend Tribune report, when Atlanta media wrote of the deal online, citing local government and NFF sources.

“I have deep respect and appreciation for the work that the staff of the Hall has done creating a great attraction in South Bend,” Luecke said. “The various functions have added vitality and helped enhance the downtown as a destination location.”

The Hall of Fame will be moved to a site across from Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, on a piece of land donated by the Cathy family, founders of Chick-fil-A, which is based in Atlanta. According to the Tribune report, the proposed facility will not be ready for occupancy until 2012.

Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin is expected to officially announce the move in a press conference Thursday.

The Atlanta Business Chronicle reports the southern capital has been interested in being home to the Hall of Fame since its move to South Bend in 1995. The Atlanta Sports Council, a branch of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, and Chick-fil-A Bowl published a statement Dec. 14, 2007 expressing its long-standing interest in the Hall of Fame and announcing a preliminary inquiry with the NFF to move the Hall to Atlanta.

The $14 million facility in which the Hall of Fame currently resides is located on Washington St. in downtown South Bend. The Hall of Fame has struggled to draw visitors and sponsorships have been lacking in recent years despite its proximity to the University, which comes with large crowds on home football weekends.

The University of Notre Dame boasts the most Hall of Fame inductees (players and coaches) with 49, the latest being Irish wide receiver and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown, ’88, in 2009.

The NFF is terminating the agreement for operation of the Hall of Fame in South Bend effective Dec. 31, 2010. The city will work with the NFF on a transition plan for the Hall, and will consider an earlier closing date. Exhibits and artifacts may be removed from the facility to prepare it for new use.

“The City of South Bend owns the building and will actively pursue opportunities to fill this space quickly,” Luecke said.

Luecke has been in contact with several local businesses to discuss possible interest in the site, and he is forming a task force to address site turnover.

“Change is hard,” Luecke said. “We will take advantage of this change to strengthen a key asset for our city.”

Other cities noted as being in the running for a new home for the Hall of Fame include Dallas, Texas.

The Hall of Fame was established in 1951 by the NFF and was located last in Kings Mills, Ohio, near Cincinnati, before moving to South Bend.