Atlanta’s tourism and hospitality industries are gearing up for what is expected to be a return to a pre-pandemic-type turnout for New Year’s events, with a college football playoff semifinal and the return of the Peach Drop on tap this weekend.
This year’s Peach Bowl is expected to draw nearly 80,000 fans to Atlanta for Saturday night’s contest between the Georgia Bulldogs and Ohio State Buckeyes, breaking attendance records, bowl officials say. The Peach Drop is also back after three years of cancellations.
Though rain is in the forecast for Saturday, college football fans and revelers welcoming the New Year are expected to spend heavily, with hotels across the city largely booked.
Gary Stokan, CEO and president of Peach Bowl, Inc., says that tickets for the game sold out in the matter of days, and 2,800 standing room only tickets were added this year.
“This city gets sports. We can fill the hotels, the bars and the restaurants,” Stokan said. “We just have the right ingredients to put together a recipe that makes for great sporting events.”
Since 2014, the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl has delivered $318.3 million in economic impact and $25.14 million in direct tax revenue for Atlanta, Peach Bowl officials say.
A massive winter storm disrupted travel last weekend, and Southwest Airlines, the second-largest carrier at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, is still resetting operations after a disastrous week that saw it cancel thousands of flights, including hundreds in Atlanta. Southwest said Thursday “we plan to return to normal operations with minimal disruptions on Friday.”
Weather this weekend won’t be as frigid. According to the National Weather Service, there is a 90% chance of rain in Atlanta on Saturday, with a high of 63 degrees. A low of 48 degrees, with mostly cloudy skies is expected Saturday night.
Despite the threat of rain, some local restaurants are still expecting to make twice as much in sales for New Year’s weekend as they did in 2021.
“We’re excited. We’re budgeting this year to basically double the revenue we did last year,” said Brian Bullock, president of Legacy Ventures restaurant management division. “I think we’ll be at 100% full capacity during the game at all restaurants.”
Legacy Ventures owns restaurants such as STATS Brewpub and Max’s Coal Oven Pizzeria on Marietta Street near Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where the Bulldogs and Buckeyes will square off Saturday night.
Karen Bremer, president and CEO of the Georgia Restaurant Association, views the Peach Bowl as an opportunity for the hospitality industry to end the year on a good note.
“This is sort of the like the last big hurrah at the end of the year,” she said.
The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl FanFest on Saturday at the Georgia World Congress Center will include live entertainment, pep rallies featuring school bands, cheerleaders and mascots from both teams and attractions such as kicking, passing and punting games and obstacle courses.
The Peach Bowl will kick off at 8 p.m. Saturday, and should end near the stroke of midnight.
At this year’s Peach Drop, host Mayor Andre Dickens and emcee Ryan Cameron will be joined by featured performers Jermaine Dupri & Friends, with special guests Da Brat, Jagged Edge and YoungBloodZ, and also Drivin n Cryin, Blanco Brown. According to the mayor’s office, plans are still on with rain in the forecast.
For the New Year’s Eve festivities, MARTA will run trains more frequently before the game and Peach Drop, and will have additional trains after the events to account for increased ridership.
William Pate, president and CEO of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau (ACVB), says that hotels are filled across downtown, Midtown and Buckhead from visitors coming in for the game.
“Everybody’s trying to rebuild their small businesses and get the hotels and restaurants to sort of a normalized operation,” he said.
An online search Thursday at noon found weekend rates for downtown hotels reflect the excitement around scheduled events. Weekend stays are listed at $369-a-night at the Westin Peachtree Plaza, and nightly rates of$350 at the Hilton Atlanta and $377 at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, on Expedia.com. All three are hotels affiliated with the Peach Bowl. The downtown Ritz-Carlton was listed at $699- a -night on Expedia.
Leaders across industries noted the loyal and expansive fanbases for both Ohio State and Georgia for contributing to the potential economic success of the weekend. The winner of Saturday night’s game will punch their ticket the college football title game Jan. 9 at SoFi Stadium near Los Angeles.
“We feel its important to really assist the hospitality industry because they’re still struggling and coming through COVID,” said Stokan. “Last year was our comeback season, and this year we’re calling it our record season.”
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution