Frank Norton Jr. recalls it clearly: The buzz in the spring of 1999 was that the Atlanta Falcons were looking to move to Stone Mountain.
“Something in the back of my head says they’re not,” said the Hall County real estate executive and one of the chief brokers in helping bring the team to Hall.
Norton was at the beach in July when he got a call from Tommy Nobis, then the Falcons’ vice president of corporate development, asking if Hall’s “deal was still back on the table.”
“I spent the entire vacation reorganizing my team, putting a site under contract in Flowery Branch — our first choice — and then we had a major presentation at the newly opened (Davis Middle School) across from the site.”
The efforts paid off as the Falcons announced four days later the team would be moving its headquarters to Flowery Branch.
“We thought big, and we won,” Norton said.
The whole process to bring the Falcons to Hall began with a rumor that the Falcons were considering moving from Suwanee, where the team had been for about 20 years. The team outgrew its digs in that rapidly growing North Gwinnett city.
“We had worked on the project for over a year through a lot of different trials and tribulations from a first introduction to the Falcons through a mutual friend,” Norton said in a 2010 interview about the team’s 10th anniversary in Hall.
“We had a couple of false starts. We had everything set up for them to tour Riverside Military Academy, thinking that would be a good training camp venue for them.
“The day we had that all lined up was a Monday after a game, and (then-Coach) Dan Reeves had suffered a heart attack.”
Norton recalled the process evolving from the Falcons looking for a new summer camp to relocating their complex.
The Davis presentation in a classroom lasted about an hour.
“It was perfect,” Norton said. “We heard four days later we had been selected. ... Within about two weeks, we had signed an agreement.”
The Falcons and Hall County officials announced the agreement in late September in a festive event at then-Gainesville College, now the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus. According to newspaper reports at the time, the atrium of the Continuing Education Building was overflowing with well-wishers and welcome signs. Davis Middle cheerleaders also attended.
“Needless to say, I’m overwhelmed,” said Taylor Smith, the Falcons’ president at the time. “I don’t know why I didn’t expect this. I should have expected this. This is the way we’ve been treated from day one. ... Y’all have made us feel special.”
The Gainesville-Hall Development Authority factored highly in the project, agreeing to issue $20 million in taxable revenue bonds. Other incentives included 10 years of tax exemptions.
In 2010, Dennis Bergin, who served as Flowery Branch city manager when the deal making for the Falcons took place, recalled plenty of naysayers.
“We heard ‘no’ probably about 10 times on why we wouldn’t be suitable,” said Bergin, now Lula city manager.
Norton recently recalled fondly the years the Falcons have been in Hall.
“It’s been a great partnership,” he said. “They’ve been involved in a number of charities here. They’re still the Atlanta Falcons. They just happen to be in Flowery Branch.”