I’ll admit something to you. When the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau 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 thought, “I’m going to have lie and say good things about this city, because CEDIA EXPO’s success is just as important to my company as it is to the CEDIA organization itself. If CEDIA EXPO fails, so do we as the one of the industry’s trade magazines and publisher of the CEDIA Daily. I’ve never been more happy to have my negative assumptions turned upside down and to be so pleasantly surprised by a city.
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 Brassiere (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 a great upscale sports bar right down the street from the Georgia World Congress Center (host of CEDIA EXPO), called STATS or that we got free admission to the new location for the World of Coca-Cola Museum (LEED certified! Waterless urinals! high-fructose corn syrup overdose!), CNN studio tour (fortunately I COULDN’T see Nancy Grace taping her show), and the absolutely amazing Georgia Aquarium (seriously, if there is one place you go if you have a little free time, skip the golf tournament and check out this place. Wow!)
Anyway, all of that 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 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.
Speaking of restaurants, I couldn’t write them all down fast enough. I’ll be providing updates and recommendations as we get closer to September, but 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 like Ruth’s Chris or Legal Sea Foods, they’ve got them. But then there are plenty of other local or New York-based choices 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 folks, who train with the Atlanta PD, but are not police, help answer questions at downtown kiosks, ride around on segues, and can be called to escort downtown guests to restaurants or events at a moments notice. The concept took me aback at first, but it grew on me and I think CEDIA EXPO attendees will find these pith-helmeted folks very helpful.
For a slideshow of my visit, click here. Stay tuned for more specifics about the show and the city of Atlanta. Don’t worry folks. It’s going to be a great place for the show. Did I mention that astronaut Buzz Aldrin is the keynote speaker? (He walked on the moon, man!)