I recently retired as CEO of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau after almost two decades as what some might call the lead salesman charged with attracting big conventions to our city. That fast pace of the job and the rapid changes and events over that period in Atlanta and all our attractions and natural beauty had me caught up in my work without always having a chance to sit back and enjoy the spectacle of what I was selling. Georgia is an amazing place and gets more and more amazing all the time.
Last week I came “out of retirement” to continue work on a project on behalf of the 12,000 Rotarians in the state of Georgia. I have been helping a committee that won the preliminary bid to host the 2017 Rotary International Convention. Last week was our time to host the selection committee and convince them in person that Georgia is all our bid document said it is. It is the ideal spot for hosting thousands of visitors from all over the world. We wanted to impress our visitors. We did, but in the process, we impressed ourselves.
The team of three selection committee visitors were L.J. Williams, who is responsible for international meetings for the 1.2 million Rotarians worldwide, Konda Sterrett, who manages registration and housing, and Mike McCullough, a past board member of Rotary International who serves on the selection committee. They had not seen our city in years nor had they had a chance to enjoy what our state has to offer. Our challenge was to take all that our 10 million Georgians know and love as home and dazzle three people. We had to impress them to recommend Georgia as the best place on earth to meet. It seemed to work.
We intentionally planned their visit during the week of the Masters. That’s not a bad spot to start a Georgia tour. We invited Rotary International President John Kenny, who lives in Scotland, to join the visit. The clincher for him was the excitement of going to Augusta with the group for a day. Cliff Kirtland and Charlie Yates made the arrangements. There could be no better day for any golf enthusiast from the country that claims the origin of golf. President Kenny seemed to have the time of his life. The day at the Masters was a showcase of a beautiful and tradition-filled spot but also a memory for a lifetime.
In Atlanta, we took them on tours of the major hotels, the Georgia World Congress Center, the Georgia Aquarium and CNN, to name just a few.
One of the events was a luncheon at the Georgia World Congress Center with an array of speakers from the city and state, including Mayor Kasim Reed, Georgia Chief Operating Officer Jim Lintz and several state and business leaders. The audience was Rotary and business leaders from all over the state. With the Rotary International president on hand, one of our Rotarians made a special presentation created for the occasion. Ross Rossin is an Atlanta Rotarian and recognized as the world’s top portrait artist, noted for painting U.S. presidents and other world leaders. He unveiled his portrait of Rotary International founder Paul Harris to cheers from the crowd. The year of the convention will be the 100th anniversary of the Rotary International Foundation, which was founded in Atlanta at the 1917 Rotary International Convention.
Another event was at Ventanas, the reception facility that overlooks Centennial Park. The visitors took a helicopter ride to see the vastness of our city and the Georgia countryside. Then they experienced a sightseeing tour that involved simply looking out the windows at what can be seen from one spot — the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, the future site of the Center for Civil & Human Rights, the future home of the College Football Hall of Fame, Centennial Park, CNN Center, Philips Arena, the Georgia Dome, several hotels, all in full view. This place we call home is far more impressive than we sometimes stop to pinch ourselves and realize.
Let’s never take Georgia for granted. I suspect the selection committee of Rotary International was very impressed. I am sure their 30,000 members will also be impressed when they attend the convention in 2017. As for right now, we Rotarians who showcased our state are very, very impressed with the place we know as home.