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Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 2:00am

Atlanta Hosts College Football's Best

The College Football Hall of Fame will celebrate its new class of honorees Wednesday night in Atlanta, the hall’s new hometown.

There’s no “hall” in Hall of Fame yet, though construction continues on a new building near Centennial Olympic Park.

CEO John Stephenson said the hall remains on track to open a year from now, just ahead of the 2014 football season. He said the $66.5 million project should welcome its first visitors debt-free.

“Over the next 12 months, we’re going to sign up a couple more sponsors that are ready to jump on board now that the building is coming out of the ground,” Stephenson said. “So hopefully on day one, we can point to the building behind us and say, ‘There’s zero permanent debt on this.’”

Private sponsorships and $1 million from the city paid for the new hall of fame facility.

Wednesday’s enshrinement ceremony will be the first of what will become an annual ceremony in Atlanta once the hall’s physical space is complete.

The city enticed the Hall of Fame to move from South Bend, Ind., four years ago with the promise of broader exposure to college football fans.

Stephenson said they projected about 500,000 yearly visitors, almost eight times more people than the former hall in South Bend.

“The World of Coca-Cola enjoys about 1.2 million visitors. The aquarium is well north of 2 million. You’ve got 3 million conventioneers in the Congress Center every year [and] about 3 million visitors to the park,” Stephenson said. “So, on that spectrum, we feel pretty good about our 500,000 number.”

Stephenson said that many visitors should provide plenty of cash flow to keep the hall of fame in the black. He said the projected operating budget requires 380,000 visitors to break even each year.

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