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Surprising ATL

I’ll admit something to you. When the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce offered CEDIA’s PR department the opportunity to invite a few members of the trade press to the home of CEDIA EXPO for the next three years, I thought, “Oh boy, they’re going to really have to do some convincing here, because I’ve never liked the place, and very few people that I’ve talked to are looking forward to going there for a trade show.” I’ve never been more happy to have my negative assumptions turned upside down.

Admittedly, it didn’t hurt that we were given two free, luxurious nights at The Ritz-Carlton Atlanta or that we were treated to wonderful dinners at downtown Atlanta’s new French American Bistro (FAM) and midtown Atlanta’s New York spin-off of the Spice Market restaurant, which is located in the trendy W Hotel. It also didn’t hurt that we were provided a great casual lunch at an upscale sports bar, called STATS, that is right down the street from the Georgia World Congress Center (host of CEDIA EXPO), or that we got free admission to the new location for the World of Coca-Cola Museum, the CNN studio tour, and the absolutely amazing Georgia Aquarium.

All of that wining and dining helped make the experience great, but what really impressed me was how much Atlanta has grown and evolved since the last time CEDIA came to town in 1998. Downtown is not the same desolate place it used to be. Centennial Olympic Park is a lush oasis right outside the convention hall, and new hotels and restaurants have sprung up all over the place. In fact, there are 33 hotels in CEDIA’s room block and all of them could be walking distance to the convention, although the city’s MARTA train might be more convenient (definitely to and from the airport) and shuttle buses will be running regularly to and from all of the hotels, as well.

Speaking of restaurants, I couldn’t write them all down fast enough on my van tour through the city, so I’ll be gathering updates and recommendations as we get closer to September.

Suffice it to say that you won’t have a hard time getting a reservation within a short ride or walk of your hotel. If you prefer a chain restaurant like Ruth’s Chris or Legal Sea Foods, then they’ve got those. But there are plenty of other local choices, big and small, up-scale or inexpensive, to keep you happy.

Last but not least, if safety is your concern, since the 1996 Olympics the city has taken that challenge very seriously by increasing the presence of its uniformed Atlanta PD officers during shows, and by creating a separate department just for the Georgia World Congress Center and surrounding properties. And in case all that is not enough, the city employs 67 members for its Ambassador Force. These pith-helmeted folks, who train with the Atlanta PD but are not police, are stationed at downtown kiosks to answer questions and patrol on Segways, and can be called at a moment’s notice to escort downtown guests to restaurants or events. I wasn’t sure what to make of them at first, but the concept grew on me. I think CEDIA EXPO attendees will find the Ambassador Force at least as helpful as the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce has been to me and my trade press peers.

To see photos of my Atlanta tour, visit the Slideshows section of www.residentialsystems. com. Stay tuned for more specifics about the show and things to do in The ATL. Don’t worry folks. Atlanta is going to be a great CEDIA city.