The World Trade Center Atlanta traces its origins back to 1982 when John Portman, founder and CEO of John Portman & Associates Inc., and Sam Ayoub, CFO of the Coca-Cola Co., rounded up donors to acquire the necessary license from the World Trade Centers Association in New York.
Mr. Portman recently told Global Atlanta, however, that he began considering the idea for the WTCA as far back as the 1960s when he was serving as the honorary consul of Denmark and opened the Midnight Sun restaurant downtown, which became a meeting place for Atlanta’s consular corps.
The evening of Thursday, Nov. 8, the center is to celebrate its 30th anniversary with a gala in the Garden Atrium of the SunTrust Plaza Building at 303 Peachtree St. providing an opportunity for its members – old, new and prospective – to reminisce and network.
Tim McKain, director of international business development at United Parcel Service Inc., and Tino Mantella, CEO of the Technology Association of Georgia, are to be the featured speakers.
In the early 1960s, Mr. Portman’s Atlanta Merchandise Mart was taking off as an international trading depot, and he realized that Atlanta’s destiny would be as a global center of commerce.
The idea of having a World Trade Center crystallized when he developed in Belgium the Trade Mart Brussels in partnership with the Trammel Crow Co.
“I came to the conclusion early on that the world was going to become more global and was never going to go into another direction,” he said.
While his attention at that point was focused primarily on Europe, the emergence of Deng Xiaoping as China’s preeminent leader in 1978 and his visit to Atlanta the following year further inspired Mr. Portman to push for a World Trade Center in Atlanta.
“The city was like a teenager at the time and it had all this energy and it was beginning to get all of these influences,” he said. “I got really turned on about creating an international city and pulling together the international community.”
Mr. Portman recalled that Mr. Deng stayed near the top of the Westin Peachtree Plaza, the 73-story hotel downtown that Mr. Portman designed and completed in 1976. “I don’t think that he had even been that high in a building and he commented on that,” he added.
His participation in a visit to China that year as a member of a delegation led by former Gov. George Busbee further convinced him to focus on Asia.
His company’s Shanghai Centre, which opened in 1990, was the first mixed-use complex of its type built in China and the largest in the country at the time. “We had a lot of fun being at the cutting edge of the development of China,” he said.
While the other key initiators of the World Trade Center Atlanta have died (Mr. Ayoub in 1997, Mr. Busbee, 2004), Mr. Portman lives on at age 87 actively committed to the WTCA. He encourages its members to keep it alive by staying at “the cutting edge of change in order to be relevant.”
“The World Trade Center, like anything, whether a company or an individual, has to work hard to maintain our relevance,” he added. “It’s probably more relevant than ever, but we have to stay and understand what is happening at the international, global-community level.”
The center, he added, can serve as a “living room” where people can come together to learn more about each other and develop meaningful relationships.
Global Atlanta conducted interviews with a small sampling of the WTCA’s backers who described their reasons for supporting the center.
Cynthia Nash, the honorary consul of Liberia, uses the center on Tuesdays and Thursdays as a location from which to issue travel visas. Jim Munson, president and CEO of Munson International, has found the global network of World Trade Centers in 330 cities in 100 countries helpful for conducting business around the world.
Atlanta attorney William Poole, one of the founding members, cited the many world leaders that he has met through World Trade Center events. C. G. Alexandrides, professor emeritus of international business at Georgia State University, was working at the United Nations when the center was launched n Atlanta and praised the World Trade Centers Association for providing a business approach to world peace.
Brian Hogg, vice president, Portman Holdings, the affiliated real estate development and management company, shepherded the move of the center in 1995 from the Merchandise Mart to its current location in the SunTrust Plaza, and has been the main liaison between the center and Portman Holdings.
Lilia Postolachi, the center’s director of membership and international services, extends an invitation for members and non-members who are curious about the center to attend the Nov. 8 anniversary celebration.
Among the center’s accomplishments over the years, she cited the Governor’s International Awards program, its mobilization of community support for the NAFTA and Latin American free trade agreements, and hosting of bi-national and multi-national networking events.
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