U.S. Cities Win Gold for Olympic Venue Use: Part II

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

This is the second in a three-part blog series looking back at the venues of three past U.S. Olympic cities: Los Angeles, Atlanta and Salt Lake City

Atlanta, Georgia – The Games of the XXVI Olympiad

In the days leading up to the U.S. Olympic Swim Team departing for Rio, they could be found practicing in the Campus Recreational Center at Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), an aquatics center originally built as a venue for the Atlanta-hosted 1996 Summer Olympic Games. It is one of several large sites repurposed for continued use today.

Atlanta was initially considered an odd choice to host an Olympic Games due to its interior U.S. location and reputation for mainly being a transportation hub. But that all changed when the world was introduced to Atlanta’s southern charm and the city was catapulted into international fame during the Centennial Olympic Games held from July 19 to August 4, 1996. According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the games in Atlanta brought together 10,318 athletes from 197 countries who competed in 271 events in and around Atlanta.

The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) was formed and led by Atlanta lawyer William “Billy” Payne, the only person in modern history to both lead the effort to win the Olympic Games and then go on to lead the games themselves. The ACOG knew that, while they could renovate existing venues for some of the events, they would have to construct new facilities, but they did so with post-Olympic use in mind. Armed with what Forbes estimates was $1.8 billion to host the games, the committee followed the model set out by LA and turned to private investors and corporate sponsors to raise money. In the end, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that, “of more than two dozen venues used for the Atlanta Games, six larger sites were specifically built for the Olympics.”

The ACOG built the 85,000-seat Centennial Olympic Stadium that was used for the opening and closing ceremonies and track and field events. After the games,  the stadium was converted into Turner Field and became the home of the Atlanta Braves through the current 2016 season. All signs point to the stadium soon being a sea of blue and white as a partnership including Georgia State University (Georgia State) plans to take over operation of the stadium to be used for the Georgia State’s Panthers football team. Part of the conversion will include a new mixed-use development. The Olympic Village housing was also constructed on Georgia State’s campus and, after the games, became a 2,000-bed student housing complex for the university.

The Coach Herb McAuley Aquatic Center was constructed on Georgia Tech’s campus and hosted the Olympic diving, swimming, synchronized swimming and water polo events. Today, it is part of the Campus Recreational Center at Georgia Tech and, according to NPR, hosts approximately 40 outside competitions a year in addition to university events. Additionally, the center, which topped the list of “The 10 Best Collegiate Competition Swimming Pools” in March, hosted the 2016 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championship in addition to being a recent training center for the U.S. Olympic Swim Team.

The beach volleyball venue is now part of Clayton County International Park that includes a water park, tennis center, muscle beach fitness, hiking and biking trails, volleyball courts, lakes for fishing and picnic areas. Constructed in Conyers, the Georgia International Horse Park hosted all the equestrian events and the final two events of the modern pentathlon. The horse park still hosts equestrian competitions and has added festivals, concerts, family reunions and weddings to their roster in addition to being a location for television and films. The 1,400-acre facility was recognized by Unique Venues magazine as a “Best Outdoor Event Space” in 2015. The majority of the other venues have been repurposed. The only notable exception is the Olympic Tennis Stadium in Stone Mountain, which is now closed. 

The jewel in the crown of the Atlanta games was and is the 21-acre Centennial Olympic Park, which is the largest downtown park in the country developed in the last 25 years. According to the Chicago Tribune, the park now anchors more than $1.8 billion in hotels, office towers and multi-housing buildings that have been constructed since the games. It is the centerpiece of a now-thriving district that is within walking distance to the College Football Hall of Fame, the Center of Civil & Human Rights, the World of Coca-Cola, the Georgia Aquarium and CNN Center. Costing an estimated $75 million, the park was funded entirely from the private-sector and built in an abandoned industrial neighborhood. The park’s purpose was to create a gathering space for game attendees that would be turned into a park to be a lasting symbol of the Atlanta games. Granite from each of the five continents represented in the games was woven into the park’s construction, and the park’s centerpiece is the Fountain of Rings, the world’s largest interactive fountain that uses the Olympic symbol of five interconnecting rings. Centennial Olympic Park hosts public events throughout the year, including a Fourth of July celebration, the Wednesday WindDown concert series and Park Market in addition to fundraisers, festivals and private events. Following the games, the ACOG turned park ownership over to the State of Georgia, and it is now owned and operated by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority.

By Kimberly Steele, HFF PR Coordinator

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