This month’s Georgia Trend cover story, “The Amazing, Tragic, Iconic and Surprising Legacy of the 1996 Olympic Games,” takes a look at collaboration among local leaders at the time and what that collaboration means to the city and state 20 years later. But other events, activities and hard work left additional legacies that continue to shine today. Here are some things we remember about that time and things that are happening today thanks to the legacy of the Atlanta Olympics.
Centennial Olympic Park, the centerpiece of the Olympics legacy, is growing. To accommodate the growth, the iconic Metro Atlanta Chamber building overlooking the park will be demolished to create 21 acres of new greenspace. Hard Rock Hotel will bring 220 rooms, 130 apartments, 33,000 square feet of retail and a small park to the corner of Centennial Olympic Park Drive and Mitchell Street. The district has also started a bike share program and is raising funds for an expanded outdoor amphitheater, among other renovations. A new Adopt-a-Brick program has been launched in honor of the 20th anniversary to help pay for the improvements.
Several statues honoring the games, the athletes and even the founder of the modern Olympics remain in the downtown Atlanta area. “The Flair,” a bronze sculpture by local artist Richard MacDonald, is in front of the Georgia Dome. The sculpture was a gift to the city of Atlanta, dedicated to Olympic Athletes and to “all those who exemplify determination and dedication in the pursuit of excellence.” A statue of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, “the founder of the Modern Olympics movement,” by Raymond Kaskey, and the “Tribute,” a bronze fan-shaped tribute to Olympism and Hellenism, by Greek sculptor Peter Calaboyias, also can be found in Centennial Olympic Park.
MARTA was a key contributor during the Olympics, providing transportation for natives and visitors, with an eye toward sustainability. MARTA partnered with Atlanta Gas Light (AGL) to use compressed natural gas (CNG) and was one of the first transit authorities in the nation to do so, with 118 CNG buses in 1996. AGL paid $2.9 million to help MARTA offset the incremental cost of the transit agency’s first 200 CNG buses and $2.5 million for its first CNG fueling station on Perry Boulevard, which is still in use today. CNG buses now make up 76 percent of MARTA’s fleet – 430 buses – and MARTA plans to replace its remaining 135 diesel buses by 2018.
The Olympics required an additional 600 MW of power on top of the typical summer peak of 15,000 MW. Georgia Power was right there to reconfigure transmission and distribution lines for the 1.5-mile Olympic Ring around the city and its 16 sporting venues. It was the equivalent of serving 288,000 more homes at peak hours. Georgia Power also supplied a network of employee volunteers, a “Watch Force,” to augment security around substations and along power lines during the massive event. In spite of the system strain, the lights stayed on.
Georgia Power also helped move 50,000 passengers a day, while keeping emissions to a minimum with 70 electric shuttles that traveled more than 130,000 miles within the Olympic Village. Georgia Power then stepped up again and did the same thing for the Paralympic Games that followed the Olympics that summer.
Let’s not forget the pins. Georgians caught pin collecting fever during the summer games, snatching up what seemed like a gazillion varieties, including the infamous “Izzy” pins. Still have yours? Sets are now selling for up to $15,000 on eBay.
Photo at top, The Flair, courtesy of Ben Young