ATLANTA, Ga. (April 27, 2005) -- Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a bill Tuesday to promote statewide tourism just a few steps away from the Georgia Aquarium, a venue its promoters are hoping will draw visitors, revitalize downtown Atlanta and pump dollars into the region's economy.
Senate Bill 125 creates a public-private foundation to coordinate state, local and private sector tourism marketing efforts. The New Georgia Tourism Foundation will be charged with developing advertising campaigns, soliciting private donations for tourism, and offering strategic planning and support for state facilities and destinations.
The governor signed the bill after a tour of the Georgia Aquarium, which is slated to open this year as part of a new entertainment district around Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park. Perdue called the aquarium "astounding" and said it would attract repeat visitors.
"We spent an hour over there, folks, and even in the construction phase I could have stayed four times as long," Perdue said. "When the aquarium opens later this year, it will be not only the talk of Georgia and the talk of Atlanta, it will be the talk of the world for people who love aquariums."
Perdue said the tourism foundation bill will help market the aquarium as well as the state's natural beauty, cultural heritage and other attractions. Craig Lesser, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, will chair the foundation.
The bill does not include an increase in public funding for tourism; instead, it relies heavily on participation from the private sector. Bernie Marcus, a co-founder of the Home Depot who donated $200 million to build the Georgia Aquarium, joined Perdue at the bill signing.
"This is a payback to the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia for the success that I've had with the Home Depot," Marcus said. "We built this so your children and your children's children will have something to do. In addition to that, my idea was always to help increase the value of the economic impact to the state of Georgia and the city of Atlanta. It's a great city; it has a lot to offer ... but it needed something."
For years, many city and state boosters have argued that downtown Atlanta lacks a true entertainment hub for residents and visitors and has the potential to generate more tourism dollars for the region.
In 2003, tourism funneled $25 billion into Georgia's economy, an amount second only to the agriculture industry. The fiscal year 2005-06 state budget includes $5.4 million for tourism efforts, an amount that includes $2.8 million for advertising.
The 2005-06 budget, which Perdue has not yet signed, includes an increase of about $1.3 million specifically for tourism, said Loretta Lepore, marketing director for the state Department of Economic Development.
Tourism advocates hope the aquarium will draw more visitors and create new jobs in the restaurant and hospitality industries.
"All of these people who come are going to be bringing money with them," Perdue said. "They're going to stay here, eat here."
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), also puts the state's Aviation, Golf, Music, and Sports halls of fame under the umbrella of the state Department of Economic Development for more coordinated marketing and promotion efforts.
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