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College HOF needs another $15 million

ATLANTA -- Fundraisers for the new College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta are facing a tough deadline to raise $15 million if construction is to begin in February as scheduled.

In this economy, that's a major challenge and the reason Gary Stokan said he is stepping down as president and CEO of the Atlanta Hall Management.

Stokan said Atlanta needs a full-time expert in corporate fundraising and he needs to focus on his duties as the head of the Chick-fil-A Bowl. He used a football analogy to describe the critical stage of the city's drive to have the Hall of Fame move from South Bend, Ind.

"We've got the thing to the red zone and now I'm in my busiest time of the year with the bowl game," Stokan told The Associated Press. "So to get the rest done by February, they need somebody to focus on the fundraising. I'm not a corporate CEO so I don't have the kind of ability to get other corporate CEOs to help fund this thing, so I think in the short term we need that."

Stokan announced Monday he is leaving his post with the hall management team.

"My job with the hall was to get it to where we could get it opened," Stokan said. "That took getting a site, raising money, getting a ground lease, legislating for state money, and then along with that was getting all the architects and designers and development people and the staff all together."

Stokan said the go-ahead to break ground in February awaits only the final $15 million needed for the $50 million project. There already has been one delay.

The Atlanta group originally targeted construction to begin in August and the facility to open in the spring of 2013. If work can begin in February, the Hall of Fame would open in September 2013.

The National Football Foundation, which owns the rights to the Hall of Fame, announced plans to move the hall to Atlanta in 2009. The foundation's president and CEO, Steve Hatchell, said Wednesday he remains optimistic about the project.

"We are excited about the future of the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, and we anticipate that this is going to be a huge success," Hatchell said in a prepared statement.

It's uncertain if the project would be endangered by another delay.

The state of Georgia has committed to bonds totaling $10 million. The city of Atlanta has pledged $8 million from its economic development fund as well as tax credits. The project has corporate funding from Coca-Cola and Chick-fil-A.

The hall has been plagued by low attendance in South Bend, but Atlanta officials project a half-million visitors a year at the new facility. It will be built adjacent to the city's massive convention center and Centennial Olympic Park. The location also is near the Georgia Dome, home of the Atlanta Falcons, and Philips Arena, home of the NBA Atlanta Hawks.

Stokan said completing the fundraising campaign will be a challenge, but he said he's confident Atlanta's corporate community will come through.

"You're not able to give any assets to those corporate sponsors until after the hall is opened, so it's a tough economy, no doubt about it, but I think Atlanta will rise to the occasion," Stokan said. "We've done it in the past. We have a history of doing that and we'll get this $15 million raised and get this Hall opened."

Steve Robinson, chairman of the board of Atlanta Hall Management, is taking Stokan's role until a new CEO is hired.

Stokan said he never intended to have a long-term role with the hall. He said he recently was offered his first long-term contract after 14 years with the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

"That's where my passion is," Stokan said. "I didn't have any delusions of grandeur that I was going to run a facility. That's not my core competency and not what I want to do. I was just there to get it opened and somebody else was going to come in and run it day to day."