Georgia State Convocation Center coming in over budget and undersized

Georgia State’s new convocation center is going to cost a bit more than officials thought.

The project’s budget was reworked from $79 million to $85 million, after approval from the University System of Georgia Board of Regents on Sept. 10.

The state-of-the-art facility at the corner of Fulton Street and Capitol Avenue was originally approved in August 2017. The new facility was planned as a 200,000-square-foot, 7,800-seat building that would host large assembly events, including academic conferences, concerts and convocation and graduation ceremonies. All future Georgia State Men’s and Women’s Basketball home games will be hosted there as well.

However, board members soon met an impasse on the cost of the project, after USG architects in December 2018 presented a design proposal that was significantly over budget. Several factors contributed to the higher costs, including the general design of the project and a competitive construction market in Atlanta that made hiring contractors difficult, as well as a large unforeseen cost of the proposed mechanical and electrical systems.

“One of the surprises was that the mechanical-electrical system is very expensive. We had to do a lot of work to bring that back to the budget,” Jim James, USG vice chancellor of real estate and facilities, said. “The [building] design was very cutting-edge and state-of-the-art, but simply was not affordable.”

Board members rejected the December 2018 proposal, and spent the following six months evaluating redesigns before deciding that a budget adjustment was needed to make the project viable.

In the end, the proposed size of the facility was scaled back significantly, with the building’s overall footprint cut by nearly 40%, from 200,000 square feet to 122,860 square feet. Most of the cuts were to the large concourses and additional amenities spaces in the original design. Some program spaces were also shrunk in square-footage, though the number of program spaces was untouched.

Seating capacity was also trimmed back slightly, from 7,800 seats to 7,503 seats. Any additional cuts to the project would have hindered the building’s ability to serve Georgia State’s needs.

“In other words, they have done all they can do to reduce the budget down, and so what we’re proceeding with today [is] what we think is the minimum requirement for this project,” James said.

Institutional funds, which include student fees and state appropriated funds, will cover $5.5 million of the $6 million budget increase, while the remaining $500,000 will be provided by the Georgia State University Athletic Association.

Georgia State does not currently have a convocation center of its own. The university previously rented the Georgia Dome for its ceremonies, prior to the building’s demolition, and now uses Georgia Tech’s facilities for convocation.

Board members were presented renderings of the new facility: a large, raised, rectangular building wrapped in glass and insulated metal, allowing those outside to look inside the building.

“It’ll be a very handsome — but not over-designed — addition to the Georgia State campus and to the city of Atlanta,” James said.

Board of Regents members also voted on another project near Georgia State Stadium Tuesday, approving non-exclusive easement and access rights to Carter & Associates, LLC, a real estate investment and development firm, for infrastructure and landscape improvements near the former Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

In November 2016, Panther Holdings, LLC, associated with Georgia State, purchased the land encompassing what is now the Georgia State Stadium and the surrounding parking lots, and later leased approximately 13.5 acres to Carter to develop Summerhill Atlanta, a mixed-use neighborhood with apartments, business offices and retail.

Carter’s current request would be for utility infrastructure to serve a private student housing complex and other housing projects, as well as aesthetic landscape improvements in the area.

“My hats off to Carter and to Georgia State for what’s going on at Summerhill. It’s been a great neighborhood partnership and they’re beginning to reap the benefits of that development with retail,” Benjamin Tarbutton III, chair of the USG Committee on Real Estate and Facilities, said. “It’s a really exciting opportunity for the city as well.”