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Rockdale CEO hopes to bring a civic center to boost tourism


Rockdale County CEO Richard Oden explains the blueprint for a 200,000-square-foot civic center.

Rockdale County Chairman and CEO Richard Oden has big dreams of breaking ground on a 200,000-square-foot civic center and auditorium in Rockdale, bringing jobs and boosting tourism in east metro Atlanta by the end of 2016. Oden hopes the civic center will become a magnet for global trade shows, concerts and other cultural events  by the end of 2016.

Oden already has a concept rendition of what Rockdale could look like with a civic center, office complex, five-star hotels and restaurants. He says the civic center would benefit the entire East corridor of metro Atlanta. Now, Oden is on a mission to get investors who will turn that concept into a reality.

“This has been a conversation I have continually brought up since I was first elected,” said Oden, who was elected in 2008 and re-elected for another four-year term in 2012.  “Last year, I was invited to Taiwan by their government. I showed them what I’ve been talking about here. I showed them the vision and the goal. I showed them the benefits of investing in us.”  

Last summer, Oden was one of nine people who took a 10-day economic development trip to Taiwan, where he promoted a potential partnership with the Taiwanese government and shared the benefits of investing in a civic center in Rockdale County. The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office funded the trip.

Oden, who represented the Southeast region on the trip, says if companies in Taiwan come to Conyers for trade shows, they will shop, eat and stay at hotels in Rockdale.

“Right now, it is a work in progress, but we are embarking on becoming a sister city and county with Taipei and Taichung. Right now, their companies’ host trade shows and other events in Chicago and Silicon Valley in California. We want them to add Conyers and Rockdale to the list,” said Oden. “I am in constant communication with Taiwan Mayor Jason Hu, his dignitaries and staff. I plan to visit them in the near future to advance this plan.”    

Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Fred Boscarino says a civic center could mean a economic boost in Rockdale.

“If such a structure with easy access from I-20 were built, it would certainly attract small conventions and other meetings. A civic center could mean an increase in tourists, and thus would reflect an increase in tourism,” said Boscarino. “It is a good idea, but you have to consider all the costs associated, such as the upkeep on such a large facility. When private investors are ready to put in their money, the public side can help make a dream like that come true.”

Oden has his sights set on the north side of Interstate I-20 inside the Sigman Road corridor for the civic center. He calls it the “opportunity zone,” where 1,600 acres is sitting untouched.

“This passageway offers significant local, state and federal incentives for redevelopment in this area. One of my goals is to always find ways to raise sales tax, instead of residents paying the whole bill in the tax digest. The center’s total credit amount may offset up to 50 percent of the taxpayer’s state income tax liability for a taxable year,” said Oden. “This civic center would allow Rockdale to provide an income tax credit of $3,500 per eligible new job with a minimum of two new job creations for leadership roles at the center.”

Some other jobs at the center could include banquet hall staff, box office workers and janitors, Oden said.

Mike Sullivan, a board member with the Conyers-Rockdale Economic Development Council (CREED), likes the idea of a civic center in Rockdale. 

“This has been his (Oden) goal for quite awhile. I think a civic center could definitely help our county because as it is now, we don’t have any place to house a large gathering, unless you want to sit out in one of the football stadiums,” said Sullivan, who chairs the board’s development committee. “Large plays, nationally-recognized speakers and a long list of performing arts events could be added to our city with a civic center venue.”

Oden has experience working with top performing arts events. He spent years working in marketing and event planning for Anheuser-Bush, the beer brewing company that also operates Busch Gardens in Tampa, FL, one of the largest theme parks in the country. At Anheuser-Bush, Oden brought in acts for  “Def Comedy Jam,” Budweiser’s “Superfest” and the Atlanta Mayor’s Masked Ball, just to name a few event.

Oden believes global investors will bite on his sales pitch because Conyers is a perfect untapped location for business and commerce.

“This region is centered on first-class academic institutions such as Emory University, Georgia Piedmont Technical College and the University of Georgia. In addition, metropolitan Atlanta is a biomedical and technology hub with international businesses such as Newton County’s Baxter Medical, Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines,” said Oden. “Those companies are the kind of corporate sponsors we could attract to Rockdale for the civic center through a public-private partnership with any public or private entity interested in productions for business, arts and entertainment. We won’t be in competition with the big stuff in Atlanta and other counties. We would get the overflow, bringing in small to mid-size trade shows and concerts.”

The 231,000-square-foot Atlanta Civic Center seats 4,600, regularly hosts touring productions of Broadway musicals, concerts, seminars, comedy acts, and high school graduations. In addition to performances, the civic center hosts conferences and exhibits as well.

“Rockdale’s civic center could be a state-of-the art academic and business incubator of the future, supporting a multi-faceted business complex,” said Oden. “Through the center, I believe Rockdale can be the hallmark of metropolitan Atlanta’s eastern corridor and a destination just minutes from downtown Atlanta and the world’s busiest passenger airport in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.”   

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