1996 was a summer that Atlanta had never seen before. One that could make or break the city’s reputation. In the spotlight of the world Atlanta saw an opportunity to grow financially, while shaping the city’s appeal. “Atlanta hosted the Centennial Summer Olympic Games from July 19-August 4, 1996. This was the largest event in the city’s history, and it helped establish Atlanta as the business and sports capital of the Southeast. Atlanta spent millions of dollars in preparation for the Games, including building new sports venues, improving streets and sidewalks, and altering housing patterns. The Centennial Games brought global attention and investment to Atlanta.”[1] . Andrew Young, activist and former Mayer of Atlanta played a huge role in this victory. Alongside Billy Payne, they pushed the idea that Atlanta could become a major city pushing past poverty and racial tensions. Atlanta had to work hard for this. The bidding process was hard, with tons of powerful cities competing for the 100thOlympic Games. As you can see from the graph below revenue was all over the place but, global attention through broadcasting was high.

Percentages of revenue by source

“Atlanta Olympic Games. Data from The Official Report of the Centennial Olympic Games.” Courtesy of GWCCA


Atlanta wanted to have the downtown be the focal point of the attention. This was because they had been trying to expand infrastructure, transportation, and entertainment for a long time. “Downtown Atlanta’s unsafe and inactive image was partially the consequence of the lack of residential development, and the presence of vacant land and deteriorated buildings. In addition to crime and safety concerns, as a convention city, downtown Atlanta is also perceived as a “9 to 5” location with limited attractions and amenities compared to other rival convention cities such as New Orleans, New York, and San Francisco.”[2] Atlanta business leaders saw tourism as an importance in downtown. They saw the Olympics as the opportunity to be in the spotlight. This justified the major expansion of Atlanta’s Downton. In the chart below you can see how they wanted everything to be close and centered around the downtown. This is how we built the massive amount of infrastructure around our city center. This infrastructure boom was a prime factor in Atlanta’s growth. Also, the reason we still see many of these buildings today. Whether used in same condition or being remodeled. These structures resembled the heart of the downtown community.

“1996 centennial Olympic Ring| Georgia State University Cartography Laboratory”


After the bidding process and fundraising it was time to start building. The center of it all was Centennial Olympic Park located in the same location to this day. A gathering point for locals and visitors during the 1996 games and after. This 21-acre park brought urban life to a once run-down industrial district. Residential and entrainment venues began to pop up around the area. “Now home to the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, and other attractions, including a fountain shaped like Olympic rings, the park underwent a multi-million expansion three years ago that added acreage and new features. It remains the Games’ most lasting and functional in-town legacy—and proud of it.”[3] Over two decades later and we are still seeing this park bring large events. This has boosted Atlanta’s business, entrainment, and residential economy by a lot. The expansion around Centennial Olympic Park is exactly what Atlanta envisioned and needed to grow. As noted downtown and surrounding neighborhoods are making dramatic comebacks. This is a complex issue but if government agencies work together it can change. Being a positive outlook for the city, as well as its surrounding residents.[4]

“Centennial Olympic Park construction, 1996.” Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center, 1996 Centennial 

“An Olympic rings monument installed during the park’s recent renovations.” Shutterstock

The next point that should be recognized is the change in the surrounding neighborhood infrastructure. At the time and now the designated downtown was surrounded by residential neighborhoods. The proximity was close making them part of the Olympic ring. In this photo you can see a similarity to the residential ring and the ring located downtown.

Olympic Ring Neighborhoods (Source: French and Disher, 1997 

“Mayor Jackson presented Atlanta’s Olympic development program at the 99th Session of the International Olympic Committee in Barcelona, Spain in July, 22, 1992 and he stated, “the Olympics will be used as an opportunity to improve the physical environment and raise the quality of the lives of citizens residing in neighborhoods lying close to the main venues. There are nine such neighborhoods. Several of these will be most directly impacted by Olympic events, particularly Summerhill, the Vine City/Atlanta University/Ashby area, Techwood/Clark Howell, and Mechanicsville. Efforts to revitalize these communities will require major new investments in their parks, infrastructure, housing, education facilities, and programs involving human and social services. Additional funds are needed to help local communities organize, plan, and oversee the rebuilding of their neighborhoods.” [5] Atlanta had a great opportunity to boost these communities. 


Although the 1996 did provide an economical boost. As well as a boost in Atlanta metros population. This only had a short-term effect especially in terms of neighborhoods surrounding the games. Many of these neighborhoods were mentioned but not included in the rebuild and development. “Just a few blocks from Olympic stadium are Atlanta’s Pittsburgh neighborhood. As we drive just off McDaniel Street, LaShawn Hoffman with the Pittsburgh Community Improvement Association says this area was left out of the Olympic prosperity. ([6]Lohr P.1).” These areas are right in sights of the games and should have been included. “”Again, we were right off the cusp and outside of the view of where most of the traffic, the people would be. And so, where we really wanted our neighborhood to be able to benefit from the investment that was being made, the Pittsburgh neighborhood didn’t prosper,” Hoffman says.” According to the article they suspect that it will take a solid amount of time to recover. Transportations and development are forecasted to help these communities make a comeback. 

A more long-term benefit was the attraction of large companies. “The Atlanta region has been quite successful in attracting the headquarters of major corporations, such as UPS, CARE, and The National Cancer Society. These newcomers, along with the local contingent that includes Coca-Cola, CNN, Home Depot, and Delta Airlines, make the Atlanta region home to more Fortune 500 corporations than are found in any but three other metropolitan areas in the United States. (French7)” This brought with it a lot of job opportunities as well as diversity.


When the 96 games ended and the fans went home, the city’s downtown flourished. The city’s spirit was at an all -time high. Peachtree street became the downtown focal point. With new infrastructure and entertainment. Being in the spotlight of the rest of the world was something that they achieved. Overall boosting the economy as well as population. Although a few missed opportunities did occur, these problems where at least recognized. Opening the door to future possibilities. Atlanta still has a lot of work to do. Expanding transportation, affordable housing, and many other issues. Something that will not change overnight. For now, Atlanta continues to grow at a rapid pace. Creating new jobs and infrastructure. Boosting opportunities for residents. The 1996 games are still recognized today and has made an impact on our downtown. Today, Atlanta continues to grow. Bringing big time opportunities. Atlanta has also become a multi ethic hub. The Airport has contributed to this tremendously. This openness is recognizable and sets a good example for the future of Atlanta’s image and culture following the 1996 Olympic games.


[1] Centennial Olympic Park July 4, 2014. 

[2] Batuhan, Tuna. Olympic strategy of downtown Atlanta business elites: A case study of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. The Florida State University, 2015.

[3] Green, Josh. “25 Years Later, Where Atlanta’s Olympic Venues Stand (or Don’t).” Urbanize Atlanta, 2 Aug. 2021, 

[4] Baker, S. Z. “Whatwuzit?: The 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics Reconsidered.” (2006).

[5] Batuhan, Tuna. Olympic strategy of downtown Atlanta business elites: A case study of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. The Florida State University, 2015.

[6]Lohr, Kathy. “The Economic Legacy of Atlanta’s Olympic Games.” NPR, NPR, 4 Aug. 2011, 

[7] Steven P. French & Mike E. Disher (1997) Atlanta and the Olympics: A One-Year Retrospective, Journal of the American Planning Association