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View from the Bell Tower porch

Oakland Cemetery & Its Economic Impact: A Student Project

This blog post was crafted by Georgia Tech MBA student Heather Craytor.

In addition to being a significant part of Atlanta history and an integral piece of the surrounding neighborhood, Oakland Cemetery is a great educational partner to local schools and universities via the Historic Oakland Foundation. Though I’m a lifelong Atlantan and have long been familiar with the cemetery, I learned more about its importance and the Foundation’s work in preserving it and expanding its recognition during my final semester in Tech’s evening MBA program when I took a course in non-profit consulting. As the 1899 Bell Tower restoration progressed and the groundbreaking for the new visitor center loomed, I and a team of three other students (Christina Cupello, Karthik Hosavaranchi-Puttaraju, and Tarique Ashraf) partnered with the Foundation to conduct an economic impact study so that the Foundation could put some hard numbers to what they already knew: Oakland is a boon to its community.

We primarily worked with the Foundation’s executive director, Richard Harker, to hone in on which variables to explore and which folks to interview. We chose to focus on how Oakland brings business to the restaurants and stores that surround it and how attracts residents to nearby homes and apartments. We also created a secondary analysis of other historic U.S. cemeteries and historic Atlanta sites that offer event space rentals so that the Foundation could better understand how they are positioning themselves as a venue and what they might be able to expect in terms of direct revenues (fees paid to Oakland for any space or equipment rentals) and indirect revenues (revenue driven to supporting businesses like caterers or food trucks).

Over the course of the semester, we interviewed several people connected to the cemetery, including Tad Mitchell of restaurant Six Feet Under and volunteer and Grant Park denizen Devon Comps, and collected financial and real estate data to craft our story. It was often difficult to stay on task because there is a seemingly infinite amount of interesting information and history to learn about Oakland Cemetery, but we knuckled down and were able to pinpoint headlining numbers for the Foundation to share with its donors and supporters; we found that Oakland’s big events drive additional business to nearby restaurants and bars to the tune of $500,000 annually, and that doesn’t include the non-event days.

Richard and the Foundation were wonderful partners throughout the experience, and it prompted me to dust off my membership (which is well worth it, especially with the new programming they’ve added this year) and sing their praises to anyone who will listen. Not only do I keep coming back for tours like “Malts and Vaults” and “Fifty Ways to Die” or events like Illumine and Capturing the Spirit, I also keep coming back to work with the Foundation. This time, I and a new team of students (Dan Eiding, Gentell Hanson, Prasanthi Datla, and Ashley Garand) are partnering with HOF on an ethics project in my newly started program at Georgetown University. As the Foundation continues to improve the Cemetery and expand its offerings, I hope more people are as drawn as I have been to its fascinating history, beautiful grounds, and the amazing people who keep it running.


To view the presentation given by Georgia Tech MBA student Heather Craytor and others, click here.

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