Tuesday Talk: GWCCA’s super year in review

Tuesday Talk rounds up the latest Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA) news you might have missed and also points forward to upcoming events on our campus.

It’s the last day of 2019, and what a year it was for the GWCCA.

It began with a bang as the GWCCA campus hosted a flurry of major tradeshows sandwiched around one of the world’s largest sporting events, while major components of the organization’s 2020 Vision master plan leapt from the drawing board to reality.

From Super Bowl LIII to presidential visits to the completion of a new exhibit hall to the addition of another major homegrown music festival at Centennial Olympic Park, the GWCCA campus staked its claim as the No. 1 convention, sports and entertainment destination in the world in 2019.

Here’s an unConventional look back at selected events and milestones from 2019.


The 71st AHR Expo, the International Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Exposition, brought more than 30,000 buyers to the show floor to peruse 1,900 exhibiting companies Jan. 14-16 at the GWCC, generated an estimated $98 million in economic impact.


The international spotlight shone again on Atlanta and the GWCCA’s championship campus for 10 days leading up to and including Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (MBS). The New England Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Rams 13-3 in front of 70,081 fans. But it was more than just a game. More than a half-million visitors set foot on the GWCCA campus for ancillary events, including the Super Bowl Experience, the NFL’s interactive theme park inside the GWCC, and Super Bowl Live, a free six-day fan village at Centennial Olympic Park, featuring a lineup of concerts curated by Atlanta hip-hop/R&B mogul Jermaine Dupri.

The International Production & Processing Expo (IPPE) traditionally happens the last week of January but shifted due to Super Bowl LIII, which meant the event’s move-in window was compressed into a span of five days rather than the usual 12. Held Feb. 12-14 at the GWCC, the Atlanta area-based trade show expanded its show floor to exhibit halls in all three buildings featuring more than 600,000 square feet of exhibit space, more than 1,420 exhibitors and more than 32,000 registered attendees, resulting in the biggest IPPE on record.

On Feb. 22, Hilton Hotels and Resorts announced that the GWCCA’s onsite headquarter hotel, to be built on a portion of the former Georgia Dome footprint, would be a spanking new concept, Signia by Hilton, the hotelier’s dynamic meetings-and-events-focused brand. Among many high-end features, the game-changing project will be 30-plus stories, have 975 guest rooms, 75,000-square-feet of meeting space, and an executive conference center that connects to the GWCC. The Authority-owned property will be the first Signia by Hilton built from the ground up.

One of the biggest all-star cheerleading competitions in the nation, CheerSport Nationals, returned Feb. 22-24 to the GWCC bringing approximately 50,000 guests to the No. 1 convention, sports and entertainment destination, while creating an estimated economic impact of more than $46 million for the city of Atlanta and state of Georgia.


Making its inaugural landing in Atlanta, the Helicopter Association International (HAI) HELI-EXPO took flight March 4-7 at the GWCC with a show floor featuring 55 helicopters that were flown into the GWCCA’s Marshalling Yards and then transported into the convention center. The world’s largest trade show dedicated to the helicopter industry, HELI-EXPO had approximately 18,000 attendees, 700 exhibitors and produced an estimated $36.6 million in economic impact.

Covering the latest discoveries across the spectrum of cancer research, more than 26,000 of the brightest minds in research and medicine from across the globe gathered for the American Association for Cancer Research(AACR) Annual Meeting from March 29-April 3 at the GWCC. With 91 percent of attendees visiting from out of state, the five-day event introduced more than $40 million in new dollars into the local economy.


More than 1,200 middle school and high school girls’ volleyball teams vying for Junior Olympics bids meant big business for downtown Atlanta over the course of two weekends in April. Featuring action on more than 120 courts set up inside the GWCC, the Mizuno Big South National Qualifier brought in an estimated 45,500 out-of-state attendees, who stayed at area hotels, ate at local restaurants, shopped locally, and visited nearby attractions, contributing to an estimated economic impact of more than $45.5 million.

Comedian/Mixed Martial Arts commentator/reality show host/podcaster Joe Rogan returned to his roots with a sold-out stand-up comedy performance at the GWCC’s Sidney Marcus Auditorium on April 12 before 1,700 fans.

On April 19-21, SweetWater 420 Fest celebrated its 15th anniversary – and sixth edition at Centennial Olympic Park – with 30,000 festival-goers treated to more than 60 performing acts spread across four stages including headliners Jason Isbell, The Avett Brothers and Widespread Panic, an artisan market, food trucks, the Planet 420 Eco-Village, the 420 Disco and the SweetWater Experience tent showcasing the Atlanta brewery’s array of beers and craft beer-centric programming.


Underneath an idyllic spring sky that faded from bright blue into the twilight, the 29 donors who made the $27 million makeover of Centennial Olympic Park a reality were honored May 13 during a ceremony dubbed “A Legacy of Dreams.”

Also celebrating its 15th year, MomoCon, the homegrown convention for animation, gaming, comics, and cosplay enthusiasts, drew its biggest crowd to date over the Memorial Day (May 23-26) weekend at the GWCC, welcoming more than 120,000 guests.


Mercedes-Benz Stadium hosted its inaugural international friendly soccer match on June 5 – a rematch of the first-ever such futbol exhibition game on the GWCCA campus. Mexico and Venezuela squared off on the MBS pitch before a crowd of 51,834, with Mexico prevailing 3-1, the same end result as when the two national teams battled it out June 24, 2009 at the Georgia Dome (Mexico 4, Venezuela 0).

The Primerica International Convention returned to the GWCCA campus June 19-22 for the first time since 2015, marking the event’s debut at MBS, where general sessions were held, while the GWCC hosted the convention’s exhibits, breakout sessions, workshops, and regional meetings – a similar footprint to when Primerica previously utilized space at the now-defunct Georgia Dome in conjunction with the convention center. Considered the city’s largest corporate meeting, daily attendance averaged 45,662 and the event generated an estimated economic impact of more than $21 million.


It was a homecoming of sorts as the GWCCA’s annual Fourth of July Celebration returned to Centennial Olympic Park with a bang after a one-year absence. Last year’s celebration was moved to the GWCCA’s International Plaza due to Park renovations, but with the $27 million in improvement projects completed, the program returned to familiar ground. Billed as the Southeast’s largest Independence Day fireworks show, a crowd close to 20,000 gathered in the Park to witness the pyrotechnic extravaganza with more than 3,000 shells launched from the northern edge of the Park cascading up to 400 feet high illuminating downtown Atlanta’s nighttime sky.

Shortly after the Fourth of July Celebration, the Park’s revamped Visitor Information Center opened. The refreshed space located near the popular Fountain of Rings is a collaboration between GWCCA and Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau (ACVB), now staffed by the latter. The center essentially replaces ACVB’s old downtown Visitor Information Center at Underground Atlanta (which was purchased by a private developer).

For several weeks in July and early August, the Clint Eastwood-directed drama “Richard Jewell,” about the falsely-implicated security guard, took up residence in the Park, recreating the look and feel of the 1996 Summer Olympics, including the deadly July 27, 1996 pipe bomb blast that killed Alice Hawthorne and injured 111 others.


More than 12,000 experts in firefighting, emergency medical services, search and rescue, terrorism response, hazardous materials spills, natural disasters and public safety policy converged at the GWCC for Fire-Rescue International, the International Association of Fire Chief’s (IAFC) Conference & Expo, on Aug. 7-10.

Photo by Logan Riely/Atlanta United.

The GWCCA’s championship campus added a couple of more trophies to its legacy as the Atlanta United captured the 2019 Campeones Cup against Club America on Aug. 14 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and the Five Stripes took home the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with a victory over Minnesota United on Aug. 27 also at MBS. Both games combined to bring more than 75,000 fans to the stadium.


An estimated 17,000 attendees came to the GWCC for the Ace Hardware Fall Convention and Exhibits held Sept. 6-8, with a focus on products available in Spring 2020. Once the show ended, there was quite a bit of material leftover, but with the help of our event partners, the Authority was able to donate 200 shelving units, diverting roughly four tons of material from landfills. 

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, ONE Music Fest marked its first time being staged at Centennial Olympic Park on Sept. 7-8. Billed as the Southeast’s largest two-day progressive urban music festival, the Atlanta-based event, featured three stages of continuous entertainment, along with 25-plus food vendors, an artisan market and various merchandise booths. Performers included Summer Walker, T-Pain, Trick Daddy, Wu-Tang Clan, Rick Ross, DMX, Ari Lennox, Musiq Soulchild, Raphael Saddiq and KP the Great and His Superfriends, aka Usher, Pharrell Williams, and Lil Jon.

A new community partner emerged for the Authority as the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra brought the Around The A free concert series to the renovated Southern Company Amphitheater at Centennial Olympic Park on Sept. 25. The concert program featured selections by famed composers Mendelssohn, Bartok, Verdi, Mozart, Rossini and Haydn, performed by the orchestra and soprano vocalist Jennifer Cherest, under the direction of Associate Conductor Stephen Mulligan, entertaining a crowd of 1,850.


GWCC hosted the National Association of Convenience Stores 2019 (NACS)Oct. 1-4, a massive event utilizing all three buildings of the 3.9 million-square-foot convention center with an estimated 24,000 attendees. There was an array of food items showcased, such as candy, pizza, chicken tenders, i.e. all types of things you’d find at convenience stores, and as a result, there was a multitude of leftover food that no one wanted to go to waste. But by the final day of the show’s move out, more than 80,000 pounds of food was donated to the Atlanta Community Food Bank, almost half of that being protein.

Joining the campus’ collection of public art displays, Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet, consisting of 30 artistically-decorated orbs placed on pedestals, was installed along the perimeter of Mercedes-Benz Stadium and The Home Depot Backyard. At an unveiling on Oct. 21, the public art project’s founder and MBS General Manager Scott Jenkins explained how the display complemented the stadium’s eco-friendly ethos. Each globe depicts a solution to climate change and each is affixed with a plaque offering practical ways to answer the call.


Photo by Oscar & Associates.

Within a span of two weeks in November, the current U.S. president, and the most-recent former commander-in-chief, made appearances at the GWCC. President Donald J. Trump kicked off his Black Voices for Trump campaign at a rally Nov. 8 at the GWCC’s Building C. Then on Nov. 20, ex-president Barack Obama was the keynote speaker at the Greenbuild International Conference & Expo in Building B.

The GWCCA’s latest holiday programming at Centennial Olympic Park kicked off Nov. 21. The two-pronged International Winter Wonderland, featuring the return of the Chinese Lantern Festival and a newcomer to the Park, Atlanta Christkindl Market, created a center for holiday cheer in downtown Atlanta.


The $55 million Exhibit Hall BC, the GWCC’s first major expansion in 16 years, was completed earlier this month and is ready for event action in 2020. The project is a direct result of customers’ concern over space constraints, and the new fixed gateway between exhibit halls in Buildings B and C allows events to create more than 1 million square feet of adjoining exhibit space.

Winding down the year, the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl – this iteration designated as a College Football Playoff Semifinal – saw the LSU Tigers demolish the Oklahoma Sooners 63-28 in front of 78,347 fans at MBS on Dec. 28. Earlier in the day, thousands of fans flocked to pre-game activities at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl FanFest at the GWCC’s Building C.


While the Atlanta Christkindl Market at Centennial Olympic Park closed last week, the other half of our International Winter Wonderland programming at the Park continues this week. It’s the final week for the Chinese Lantern Festival, which opens nightly at 6 through Sunday (Jan. 5). To reserve tickets, click here.

The sold-out Passion 2020, a faith-based conference specifically targeting 18-to-25-year-olds, kicks off tonight with its first session at 8:30 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The conference, which features a slate of performers and speakers, including Tim Tebow, continues Wednesday (Jan. 1) and Thursday (Jan. 2).

The Atlanta Hawks are back in action on the home court at campus neighbor State Farm Arena on Saturday (Jan. 4) taking on the Indiana Pacers. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m.