Photo by Heather Middleton
By Joel Hall
After six months of construction, the City of Morrow has converted what was once an abandoned property at Southlake Mall into a 28,000-square-foot, internationally certified conference center.
The Morrow Center -- which city officials hope will become a new destination for business conferences and weddings in the Southern Crescent -- will be introduced to the public this weekend.
The grand-opening celebration for the Morrow Center will take place Sunday, from 12:30 to 4 p.m., at the center, which is located at 1180 Southlake Circle, Suite 100 in Morrow.
The free event will feature samples from six of the center's preferred caterers, and several vendor booths sponsored by local bridal shops, tuxedo-rental stores, florists, and musical-entertainment companies. The grand opening will also feature a drawing in which one attendee will win the services of the center for their own event, free of charge.
Morrow Center Director Stephen Sullivan said the center has been operational for a month, and that it is the 11th conference center in metro Atlanta to be certified by the International Association of Conference Centers. He said he believes Sunday's event will showcase the center to the greater community and, eventually, help bring additional tourism and business traffic to Clayton County.
"We've had several events during the holidays," Sullivan said. "We have weddings booked to June and tentative ones as far out as October. If you look at what Morrow has and what the surrounding area has, there is really nothing like us here. There is nothing that is going to fit this niche of 200 to 300 people, which is the sweet spot."
Six months ago, the city began converting space that was once the old Macy's department store into the first phase of the Morrow Center, according to Morrow Downtown Development Authority Executive Director John Lampl.
Through the help of bank financing and Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) proceeds, the city has reinvented the space, according to Lampl, creating three 600-square-foot, fully-outfitted conference rooms; a business office with printing and fax capabilities; a catering kitchen; and a 4,700-square-foot ballroom complete with imported Axminster carpet, an integrated sound system, a digital projector, and a projection screen.
The cost of the initial phase of the center, which sits on the ground level, was $4.8 million, according to Lampl. He said there are also plans to use 4,700 square feet of ground-level space for restaurants, 65,000 square feet of below-ground-level space for an exhibition hall, and build a 100- to 125-room, three-star hotel on approximately three acres adjacent to the center.
"If you throw the hotel in there with the additional space, it is probably a $25 million project," Lampl said. "There is a silver lining in the economic downturn. The cost of construction is much less than it has been in the past or than it will be. We can put this project together for 30 percent or 40 percent less than it would cost in normal times. By doing that, you not only put people back to work, but you take advantage of savings."
Lampl said the conference center will initially create about a dozen jobs and between 50 and 75 jobs once the planned restaurant and hotel portions are built.
"A lot of people have been doing their professional events in Atlanta," Lampl said. "What you are going to see is a lot of events that should be happening in Clayton County are going to be happening here."
Sullivan said the Morrow Center may help bring more attention to the Southlake Mall area, Spivey Hall, the National Archives at Atlanta, and other Clayton County amenities. He said the conference center may also help more visitors envision Morrow as "part of metro Atlanta."
"We're like Buckhead ... but we're definitely at Clayton County prices," Sullivan said. "Pricing is below market [and] value is above market, so it's a win-win for everybody involved. You are going to have people having more experiences where they want to see more of Morrow and Clayton County. Once we get the word out, we are going to be phenomenal."
To RSVP for Sunday's grand opening, call the Morrow Center at (678) 489-5161.