Danny Ross, chairman of the Dunwoody Music Conservancy, presented a proposal Jan. 20 to Georgia Music Hall of Fame board members in Macon. The plan would relocate the financially strapped museum from Macon to Perimeter Mall and ultimately into an art center in Dunwoody that the group plans to build. Ross was one of four presenters vying for the institution. Athens, Woodstock and Macon were the other cities.
“We have a strong proposal,” said an upbeat Ross after his hour-long presentation. “There are certainly others who are worthy competitors, but we have unique advantages versus the others.”
State officials chose to build the hall of fame in Macon because of its central location between Atlanta and Savannah, easy access to Interstates 16 and 75 and the city’s rich music heritage (the birthplace of Little Richard, Otis Redding and Southern rock). It opened in 1996 and has depended on state funding to operate.
With annual attendance hovering around 20,000, the institution has not been financially self-sustaining. Given the economic downturn, lawmakers said the state could no longer afford to subsidize the hall.
Ross, who is also a Dunwoody city councilman, stood on a podium to deliver his PowerPoint presentation. The conservancy’s plan would place the hall of fame in a rent-free space in Perimeter Mall for three years while it builds a permanent home for the museum at the Spruill Center for the Arts in Perimeter Center. The new facility, dubbed the Center for Performing Art of Dunwoody, would be built with a combination of corporate, foundation and individual donations, Ross explained.
One of his key selling points is Dunwoody’s proximity to a huge population base. Perimeter Mall, he highlighted, is the second largest mall in the Southeast, drawing foot traffic of more than 18 million visitors annually. Once in its permanent location, the hall would be within 30 miles of nearly 5.5 million people. Furthermore, more than 1 million students live within “an easy 30-minute bus ride” from Dunwoody. In 2016, Ross projected the hall of fame would attract approximately 325,000 visitors annually if located in Dunwoody.
But the board members asked Ross some tough questions about how his organization would finance the construction of its performing arts center—emphasizing that they don’t want to see the hall of fame stuck at Perimeter Mall.
Ross admitted that the conservancy does not have money in hand or in commitments for the project. “We only have soft dollars,” he told them. “The hard dollars will only come after you make a decision, hopefully in our favor.” He also emphasized his personal experience as a venture capitalist, as well as the fundraising experience of the other board members.
One hall of fame board member expressed his concern that no one on the conservancy’s board has a strong connection to the music industry. After his presentation, Ross said he is open to the idea of adding a board member with a music industry background but has no immediate plans to do that. “We want a board that works,” he stated. “We’re not looking to put names on the board. The people we have [on the board] have a history of working in organizations and volunteerism.”
Unlike the Macon team, which has financial commitments from city and county governments, Dunwoody’s group is not seeking financial backing from DeKalb County. “This is something we ought to do on our own feet,” Ross said. “I’m not here as a city councilman. I’m here as a citizen of Dunwoody who has a passion for music and preservation.”