Tornado-Damaged GWCC Expects to be Back in Action in Time for Late March Shows

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
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Atlanta, GA – A direct hit from a late-winter tornado that roared through downtown Atlanta March 14 knocked the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) out of action for an estimated full week.

Mark Zimmerman, general manager of the GWCC, told Trade Show Executive Tuesday that all three of the buildings in the GWCC complex had suffered damage in the form of broken windows and/or blown-off sections of roof. “There was a tremendous response from our emergency groups that have come in to restore and clean up,” Zimmerman said, adding that as many as 1,000 people have been working on the repairs.

Zimmerman said the GWCC was in daily contact with its customers while the damage assessments and repairs were being made. “We have hade tremendous help from the state,” he said. “We are going to get through this.”

The Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau said most downtown hotels were back to normal. An exception was the Omni Hotel at CNN Center where more than 450 of the 1,067 guest rooms were expected to be closed for about two weeks. The Omni advised guests with reservations to contact the hotel for updates on their accommodations.

The exact extent of the damage was still being tallied March 18 and it was not known how long the repairs would take. The GWCC was closed to the public until March 21.

The incident forced cancellation of 10 events, including  the Spring Atlanta Home Show scheduled for March 13-16, and the 96th Thomas P. Hinman Dental Meeting, which was underway when the tornado hit. Exhibitors had to wait until Monday before they could remove their booths from the building.

The Big South Qualifier, one of the largest college volleyball events in the U.S., was to have started at the GWCC on March 19 and was in the process of being relocated.

The next major trade show on the GWCC calendar is the International Window Coverings Expo on March 27-31. Show organizers said that as of Tuesday, the show would go on as scheduled.

“We do know that the Hall C, where our event is booked, sustained the ‘least amount of damage,’ and at show time will be fully functional,” Suzanne Worthley vice president of operations for Grace McNamara Inc., organizer of the event, said in a statement on the show Web site.

“Atlanta is one of the largest convention cities in the country, with a risk-management plan that is designed to handle a situation like this in an extremely time-efficient manner,” Worthley said. “The Omni, the host hotel, has confirmed they are currently taking measures to accommodate our guest room block.”

The International Window Coverings Expo will be followed by the National Propane Gas Association’s 2008 Southeastern Convention & International Propane Expo on March 29-31.

“It looks very positive that both shows can be held, but we need to make sure that all systems are go,” Zimmerman said.

Reach Mark Zimmerman, general manager of the GWCC, at (404) 223-4000 or mzimmerman@gwcc.com; Suzanne Worthley at (651) 293-1544, or suzanne@gracemcnamarainc.com; Michael Schoppenhorst, show director for the Spring Atlanta Home Show, at (770) 998-9800, ext. 234, or Michael@AtlantaHomeShow.com; Stephanie Park, exhibits manager for Hinman Atlanta, at (404) 231-1663 or spark@hinman.org; Jennifer Tomb, director of conventions and meetings, for the National Propane Gas Association, at (202) 355-1334 or jtomb@npga.org