It was 6:00 p.m. and our small conference room was jammed. High priced attorneys and VP's from Coke's corporate headquarters unloaded documents from their leather briefcases onto the table. Community residents - board members on our neighborhood CDC - rushed in from their jobs and took their places at the table. Around the periphery of the room hovered a gallery of consultants, advisors and assorted experts, poised to offer counsel if and when called upon. The normal jovial banter of neighborhood friends and guests was noticeably subdued. Faces wore serious expressions. The deal on the table was big, nearly a million dollars big, money needed for debt retirement on the hotel-turned-dormitory which the community now owned. This was obviously very important business. The deal was a fascinating one that had taken considerable imagination and skill to negotiate. The fifteen story hotel which the community had acquired a year ago was located adjacent to the new Olympic stadium and in plain view of Atlanta's major converging traffic arteries. It had become apparent that the north and south walls of the building, which had no windows, could be the most visible advertising space in the entire Olympic venue area. Outdoor advertisers began circling shortly after we acquired the hotel.
Coca Cola, an Olympic sponsor whose international headquarters is located in Atlanta, emerged early on as the lead contender for the space. They envisioned two fifteen story murals of the faces of the world, painted by a world-class artist, unveiled in four phases and culminating at the opening of the 1996 Olympics. It would likely become the most photographed icon of the centennial games and an international advertising coup for Coke. With all the available billboard space in the city already committed through 1996, this became a "must do" deal for the voracious giant.
Sitting quietly in the corner of the conference room were two businessmen who possessed the unique spiritual gift of "deal-making". A year earlier, they had successfully pulled off the complex hotel acquisition for the community. Now, once again, they had employed their best talents to maneuver through the mine fields of competing interests, zoning negotiations, Olympic politics and financial brinkmanship to bring us to another closing. They wore satisfied expressions on their faces, knowing that the deal on the table was a good one, both for the community and for Coke. Unlike the earlier hotel acquisition process that excluded the community from the negotiation and caused no small disruption in our neighborhood coalition, this deal had involved community leadership throughout. The board, with all its community members present, sat eye to eye with corporate decision-makers. "Let's begin", the community president called the group to order.
Our board chairman, a respected real estate developer, began to explain the major points of the complicated document which had been handed to him by Coke's lead attorney. "We'd like to see the contract", one of the board members interrupted. The corporate guests glanced at each other and shuffled quickly through their papers as an uncomfortable silence fell upon the room. Only the original document and one copy had been brought for signing. To make copies now for everyone would take awhile on our old copier; it would take far longer to go through the lengthy contract line by line. The lawyers looked at their watches. It was already well past their normal work hours. The VP's shifted uncomfortably in their chairs. Finally, the ranking member of the Coke delegation reached into his briefcase and pulled out a check - a very large first installment of this lucrative agreement. But his offer was graciously refused by our community president. This meeting was not about to be expedited by a hasty monetary inducement.
After a long and awkward delay, copies were collated and distributed, and the discussion resumed. "What does this mean?", the question was raised repeatedly as the group slowly worked its way through confusing clauses of cryptic legalese. "Why are we agreeing to this?", various ones asked as loopholes were disclosed. Some explanations made sense; others required re-negotiation; some were unacceptable. By the end of the meeting everyone in the room had a thorough understanding of the agreement and a real sense of ownership in the deal. During the process, the mood had noticeably shifted from seriousness to celebration. The room erupted in spontaneous applause as the contract was signed and the check exchanged. It was a deal done well.