ATLANTA -- The College Football Hall of Fame won't open for another 15 months in Atlanta, but organizers gave a sneak peek of the building on Wednesday.
Steve Hatchell, president of the National Football Foundation, and John Stephenson, the president and CEO of the College Football Hall of Fame, answered questions and gave a virtual tour of the building at the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
"It is first and foremost a stage for the National Football Foundation to celebrate the hall of fame and the history," Stephenson said. "Second, it's a usable asset for the city. It will continue to grow this area of Atlanta with this addition. But it's also a celebration of the game. If you look at the exhibitory, we are really connecting the people that visit the building with their passion for college football."
The College Football Hall of Fame is expected to open in August 2014. It will be located on Marietta Street in downtown Atlanta across the street from Centennial Olympic Park and next to the Omni Hotel. It's being built on what used to be the green parking lot at the Georgia World Congress Center.
The College Football Hall of Fame will be a nice addition to other nearby attractions, including the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola and the the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, which will open next May.
"We needed a spectacular hall of fame," Hatchell said. "I think what you'll see, being in Atlanta, Ga., is just about a perfect combination of a sustainable, exciting, awesome hall of fame for football."
The hall of fame will feature a store front on Marietta Street and upon entering the building guests will be greeted by a helmet wall of every college football playing school.
Fans of a particular school can customize their visit by selecting their team and learning more about them during the tour.
"What we've got in here is a really cool experience," Stephenson said. "With the technology with we have today, we can really customize the visitor experience."
There's a 150-seat 3-D theater along with an exhibit with artifacts and interactive attractions and kids activities.
A 45-yard-long field sits in the middle of the building as a commons area that will have punt, pass and kick games and can be used as a main event space for banquets and dinners.
The pinnacle of the experience is the hall of fame itself on the top floor.
"The Hall of Fame is clearly the nicest room in the building," Stephenson said.
The hall of fame will be open seven days a week, 364 days a year from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $17.50 and the average length of the visit is expected to be one and half hours.
An estimated 500,000 visitors are expected to visit the hall of fame annually. By comparison, the Georgia Aquarium has two million visitors, the World of Coca-Cola has one million and the CNN tour has 350,000.
"It's a place where you're going to come and have a good time if you're sort of a marginal football fan," Stephenson said. "If you're a huge college football fan and aficionado, you're going to come in here and get all you want from a historical perspective."
The opening of the hall of fame will coincide with the Chick-fil-A kickoff on August 30, 2014, which will feature Ole Miss vs. Boise State and Alabama vs. West Virginia at the nearby Georgia Dome. Atlanta will also be a host for a semifinal game in the new college football playoff during the 2016 season.
"It's a big year for us here in Atlanta," Stephenson said. "It's by design that we picked that as our target opening."
The College Football Hall of Fame was established in 1951. Its home has been in South Bend, Ind., just two miles from the University of Notre Dame campus, since 1995. The hall of fame drew about 80,000 visitors a year and in 2009 it was announced it would be moving to Atlanta.
"The No. 1 thing in the hall of fame is sustainability," Hatchell said. "You can build in a lot of great places, but if people don't come to it, it's a big empty building. (Atlanta is) an area that cares about it, meaning the southeast part of the country. That was a combination that can't go away."
There are more than 900 players and 200 coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame. A strict criteria of being a first-team All-American for players and a coach with 10 years experience and a 60 percent winning percentage make it one of the most precious halls of fame.
"We needed a place that really said it is special," Hatchell said.