Atlanta Rebuilds, Assesses After Storm

Officials Scramble to Clean Up for a Busy Convention Schedule

The Georgia World Congress CenterThe Georgia World Congress
Center before the storm

After a tornado tore through Atlanta on March 14, the Georgia World Congress Center closed for a week, sending planners and their conventioneers scrambling. The nearby Westin Peachtree Plaza and the Omni Hotel at the CNN Center also closed a number of rooms, resulting in a relocation of multiple groups.

The Clinical Laboratory Management Association was forced to cancel its three-day ThinkLab ’08 Conference and Exhibition at the GWCC. The event was expected to draw more than 2,200 attendees, 140 speakers and 220 exhibitors. “We weren’t able to see our meeting space because of the damage and safety issues,” said Mark John, the association’s COO, who made a site inspection a few days after the storm. John noted standing water, holes in the roof and blown-out windows in the hall that the group had planned to use.

“They have a monumental situation on their hands,” John said. Due to a tightly packed schedule, the GWCC was not able to accommodate the group at a later date.

At press time, the cost of damages to the city, which a report by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution estimated at approximately $100 million, was still being assessed.

Officials from the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau and the GWCC said in a teleconference a few days after the storm that their primary goals were “to keep business in Atlanta, keep groups up-to-date and to accommodate everyone.”

GWCC officials estimated that repairs would be completed by this month. “Rebuilding is going extremely well,” said Mark Zimmerman, the facility’s general manager, who added that hundreds of workers have assisted in reconstruction and cleanup of the center, which also had its two decorative Hermes towers (in the shape of Olympic torches) blown over by the tornado.

Conventions that were postponed or canceled included the Atlanta Home Show, the Central Atlanta Progress Meeting and the 96th Thomas P. Hinman Dental Meeting.

Other events, such as the ING Georgia Marathon and Fitness Expo and the Southeastern Conference’s Men’s Basketball Tournament, were relocated to various nearby venues.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Auto Show (April 19-27), First Robotics (April 16-19) and the DECA International Career Development Con-ference (April 26-29) all took place as originally scheduled.