Many venues from Atlanta ’96 Olympics still in use

People learn to row near the Lake Lanier Olympic Park in Gainesville on August 7, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Caption
People learn to row near the Lake Lanier Olympic Park in Gainesville on August 7, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Others sprouting weeds

When the international media alighted in Atlanta ahead of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games, many weren’t impressed with the venues they saw.

“Never in American history has so much mundane architecture been thrown up in one place at one time — and on purpose,” the Baltimore Sun’s architecture critic sniped.

“This is not Barcelona,” began the Washington Post’s write-up.

That was kind of the point.

From the outset, Atlanta organizers didn’t have the billions in public financing that the Catalan capital did ahead of the previous summer Games. Georgia officials were instead largely reliant on what they could raise selling TV rights, souvenirs and sponsorships.

Explore1996 Olympics energized Atlanta, but uneven legacy lives on

That kept the city’s architectural vision modest.

Organizers razed or painted some blighted properties within sight of Olympic venues. They used existing facilities, like the Georgia World Congress Center and Omni Coliseum. And where new venues were constructed, planners took into account how they would be used well after the Olympic cauldron was extinguished.

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The Olympic Cauldron was lit by Muhammad Ali during the opening ceremonies for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games at Centennial Olympic Stadium (seen here during the closing ceremonies on Aug. 4, 1996). The stadium was later reconfigured as Turner Field, the home of the Atlanta Braves, until the ball club moved to Truist Field in Cobb County in 2017. The cauldron moved too, one block north to the intersection of Capitol Avenue and Fulton Street. The stadium, now called Center Parc Credit Union Stadium, is the home of the Georgia State University Panthers football team. (Renee Hannans, Curtis Compton / AJC)

Credit: Renee Hannans

The Olympic Cauldron was lit by Muhammad Ali during the opening ceremonies for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games at Centennial Olympic Stadium (seen here during the closing ceremonies on Aug. 4, 1996). The stadium was later reconfigured as Turner Field, the home of the Atlanta Braves, until the ball club moved to Truist Field in Cobb County in 2017. The cauldron moved too, one block north to the intersection of Capitol Avenue and Fulton Street. The stadium, now called Center Parc Credit Union Stadium, is the home of the Georgia State University Panthers football team. (Renee Hannans, Curtis Compton / AJC)
Caption
The Olympic Cauldron was lit by Muhammad Ali during the opening ceremonies for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games at Centennial Olympic Stadium (seen here during the closing ceremonies on Aug. 4, 1996). The stadium was later reconfigured as Turner Field, the home of the Atlanta Braves, until the ball club moved to Truist Field in Cobb County in 2017. The cauldron moved too, one block north to the intersection of Capitol Avenue and Fulton Street. The stadium, now called Center Parc Credit Union Stadium, is the home of the Georgia State University Panthers football team. (Renee Hannans, Curtis Compton / AJC)

Credit: Renee Hannans

Credit: Renee Hannans

In the end, Atlanta, one of the last cities to privately finance its games, spent $3.8 billion in 2009 dollars to build venues and run the show, according to an Oxford University study. Barcelona had spent $11.4 billion. And many of the facilities constructed for the Atlanta Olympiad are still in use, unlike many venues in Athens, Rio de Janeiro and Beijing.

Some of the biggest winners from Atlanta’s Olympic building boom were local universities. Sporting facilities found new life as dorms, practice fields and game day venues. The old Olympic Village along the Downtown Connector, first used by Georgia State University as dormitories, then sold to Georgia Tech, helped GSU turn around its reputation as a commuter college, said Mike Dobbins, who managed the city’s Olympic legacy as commissioner of planning, development and neighborhood conservation and recently co-authored a book about the ‘96 Games.

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Traffic flows along the downtown connector between a portion of the Olympic Village on the right and the city skyline in 1995. The village is still being used as university dormitories.

Credit: LEITA COWART

Traffic flows along the downtown connector between a portion of the Olympic Village on the right and the city skyline in 1995. The village is still being used as university dormitories.
Caption
Traffic flows along the downtown connector between a portion of the Olympic Village on the right and the city skyline in 1995. The village is still being used as university dormitories.

Credit: LEITA COWART

Credit: LEITA COWART

But perhaps the biggest beneficiary was the Atlanta Braves. The team got its 30-year-old digs at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium replaced with the state-of-the-art Olympic Stadium. The remodeled facility still stands and is used by GSU.

Here’s the status of some of the other venues used in the Atlanta ‘96 Games:

Still in use

Georgia International Horse Park: The Conyers facility hosted equestrian meets in 1996, as well as two events from the modern pentathlon. The park now includes a 173-acre nature preserve and stages horse shows, festivals, concerts and weddings. In the next two months, it has a barrel racing event and a 5K obstacle race on the calendar.

Caption
The Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers began development in 1991 and hosted the equestrian events for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. The park continues to operate as a multi-use venue for horse shows, festivals, concerts and other non-equestrian sporting events. At right, an Olympic ring made from horse jumps sits in Bald Rock Meadows. (Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

The Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers began development in 1991 and hosted the equestrian events for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. The park continues to operate as a multi-use venue for horse shows, festivals, concerts and other non-equestrian sporting events. At right, an Olympic ring made from horse jumps sits in Bald Rock Meadows. (Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com)
Caption
The Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers began development in 1991 and hosted the equestrian events for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. The park continues to operate as a multi-use venue for horse shows, festivals, concerts and other non-equestrian sporting events. At right, an Olympic ring made from horse jumps sits in Bald Rock Meadows. (Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Lake Lanier: The reservoir has been around since the 1950s, but during the Games it was the site of rowing, canoe and kayaking events. The Gainesville-area Olympic venue was recently renovated to make it handicap accessible, and today it boasts a butterfly garden and rowing club.

Caption
Two people row past the Olympic Tower at Lake Lanier Olympic Park in Gainesville on August 7, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Two people row past the Olympic Tower at Lake Lanier Olympic Park in Gainesville on August 7, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Caption
Two people row past the Olympic Tower at Lake Lanier Olympic Park in Gainesville on August 7, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Georgia Tech Aquatic Center: Built for the Games, the outdoor venue staged swimming, synchronized swimming, diving and water polo. The site was transferred afterward to Georgia Tech, which enclosed the facility. The venue is home to the school’s swimming and diving teams and is used for recreation by students.

Teetering or Transitioning

Stone Mountain Tennis Center: Since the Games, managers tried to lure major tennis events and concerts to the venue but were unsuccessful. The 26-acre, 8,000 seat site has been demolished. In December, Gwinnett County Commissioners agreed to negotiate with Fuqua Development to build a mixed-use center on the land.

Caption
The Stone Mountain Tennis Center was built to host the tennis events for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. The stadium, which sat 12,000 fans during the Games, was surrounded by 15 outer courts. After the Olympics, the stadium was reconfigured to 7,200 seats and continued to host tennis events. Over time, it fell into disuse and was demolished in 2017. The land has been cleared. (Phil Skinner, Tyler Estep / AJC)

Credit: Phil Skinner

The Stone Mountain Tennis Center was built to host the tennis events for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. The stadium, which sat 12,000 fans during the Games, was surrounded by 15 outer courts. After the Olympics, the stadium was reconfigured to 7,200 seats and continued to host tennis events. Over time, it fell into disuse and was demolished in 2017. The land has been cleared. (Phil Skinner, Tyler Estep / AJC)
Caption
The Stone Mountain Tennis Center was built to host the tennis events for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. The stadium, which sat 12,000 fans during the Games, was surrounded by 15 outer courts. After the Olympics, the stadium was reconfigured to 7,200 seats and continued to host tennis events. Over time, it fell into disuse and was demolished in 2017. The land has been cleared. (Phil Skinner, Tyler Estep / AJC)

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Atlanta Beach: Constructed for beach volleyball, the Jonesboro facility has struggled to find its financial footing. A water park at the site closed in 2018 for renovations. Local officials are planning to add amenities such as a lazy river, board walk and food truck area.

Alonzo Herndon Stadium: Morris Brown University’s old stadium was overhauled into a 15,000-seat venue to host field hockey. For a time the college used the stadium for football games, but money woes led Morris Brown to sell off the stadium to pay debts after filing for bankruptcy. The stadium is now covered in graffiti and weeds.

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Caption
Alonzo Herndon Stadium was originally built on the Morris Brown College campus in 1948 and got a major overhaul to become a 15,011-seat field hockey venue for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. After the Olympics, the stadium hosted the Georgia Mustangs softball and Atlanta Beat soccer teams. Today, the closed stadium is a graffiti-covered ruin. (John Bazemore / AP; Curtis Compton / AJC)

Credit: John Bazemore

Alonzo Herndon Stadium was originally built on the Morris Brown College campus in 1948 and got a major overhaul to become a 15,011-seat field hockey venue for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. After the Olympics, the stadium hosted the Georgia Mustangs softball and Atlanta Beat soccer teams. Today, the closed stadium is a graffiti-covered ruin. (John Bazemore / AP; Curtis Compton / AJC)
Caption
Alonzo Herndon Stadium was originally built on the Morris Brown College campus in 1948 and got a major overhaul to become a 15,011-seat field hockey venue for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. After the Olympics, the stadium hosted the Georgia Mustangs softball and Atlanta Beat soccer teams. Today, the closed stadium is a graffiti-covered ruin. (John Bazemore / AP; Curtis Compton / AJC)

Credit: John Bazemore

Credit: John Bazemore

Demolished

Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, home of baseball events, and the Omni Coliseum, which hosted indoor volleyball matches, were both built prior to the Games and demolished in 1997. The Georgia Dome, which staged basketball, handball and gymnastics, was in use until demolished in 2017. A temporary velodrome was built at Stone Mountain during the Olympics to host track cycling, but it was sent to Quebec afterwards.

Caption
Framed between the transplanted Olympic Caldron, right, and the Brave's new home, Turner Field, the remains of Atlanta Fulton County Stadium lies in a heap of rubble after the implosion. Demolition crews imploded it down with a series of 1,200 successive detonations. (AJC Staff Photo/Kevin Keister)

Credit: KEVIN KEISTER

Framed between the transplanted Olympic Caldron, right, and the Brave's new home, Turner Field, the remains of Atlanta Fulton County Stadium lies in a heap of rubble after the implosion. Demolition crews imploded it down with a series of 1,200 successive detonations. (AJC Staff Photo/Kevin Keister)
Caption
Framed between the transplanted Olympic Caldron, right, and the Brave's new home, Turner Field, the remains of Atlanta Fulton County Stadium lies in a heap of rubble after the implosion. Demolition crews imploded it down with a series of 1,200 successive detonations. (AJC Staff Photo/Kevin Keister)

Credit: KEVIN KEISTER

Credit: KEVIN KEISTER

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