SOUTH BEND, Ind. – The College Football Hall of Fame, which never managed to attract the number of visitors its organizers hoped for after moving it to South Bend in 1995, is being moved to Atlanta to bring it more exposure, organizers told the city.
The National Football Foundation notified the city of South Bend in a letter Tuesday that it is terminating its agreement with the city when its current lease ends on Dec. 31, 2010.
"We take this action not because of any failure on your part, but because we have an opportunity to take the exposure of the Hall of Fame to an entirely new level," wrote Archie Manning, chairman of the National Football Foundation and the College Football Hall of Fame.
South Bend Mayor Stephen Luecke said Wednesday that he met with football foundation officials on Tuesday and they told him that the move would be announced at a news conference Thursday in Atlanta. College Football Hall of Fame officials did not return telephone messages from The Associated Press, but issued a statement thanking the city of South Bend for its support.
"The painstaking decision to move the College Football Hall of Fame to Atlanta is made with regret but also in the knowledge that the new venue will provide the Hall an unprecedented opportunity to grow," the hall said in a statement.
A spokesman for the National Football Foundation, Phil Marwill, declined to comment immediately but said he would comment later Wednesday. He did not respond to further messages seeking comment.
Luecke said he was told a group in Atlanta had put together an impressive package, "including some sponsorships that we were never able to develop here in South Bend."
The hall moved to South Bend from Kings Mills, Ohio, in 1995 to take advantage of its proximity to Notre Dame. Supporters predicted it would attract more than 150,000 visitors a year, but it drew about 115,000 people the first year and about 60,000 annually after that.
"I think they feel being in a larger city perhaps will give them better exposure," Luecke said. "It was a business decision on the part of the National Football Foundation."
Luecke said he was "deeply disappointed" by the foundation's decision, but not surprised considering the number of communities that have courted the hall in the past.
"The hall has been a great asset for our community. It has provided national exposure for us and it's contributed to the revitalization of South Bend," he said.
Luecke said foundation officials had expressed frustration to him when some community members and city officials had complained that the hall was a financial drain. The city owns the building that houses the hall.
"So for them, perhaps it was an easier decision that it would have been otherwise," Luecke said. "I don't think we kicked them out, but some of those negative comments may have added to their willingness to make a decision to relocate."
The city pays $1.6 million per year through 2018 on the bonds for the building, which also includes some expenses for the nearby convention center, and contributes $550,000 per year to the hall through a hotel-motel tax, Luecke said. The city also has been putting money from its professional sports development fund into an endowment fund to pay for repairs at the facility.
The city will work with the football foundation to work out a transition plan. Luecke said there is a chance the city could close the facility before the end of 2010. He said he was told the facility in Atlanta probably won't be ready until 2012.
The hall is scheduled to hold its enshrinement ceremony in South Bend in July. Luecke said he's not sure it will take place.
"It's possible that we could have had our last enshrinement festival," he said.