An SEC championship game. The annual Dragon Con sci-fi conference. The yearly AJC Peachtree Road Race. A Major League Soccer final. Back-to-back Taylor Swift concerts.
Atlanta has hosted its share of huge events. The Super Bowl, which will kick off at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Feb. 3, will make them look like child’s play.
An estimated 1 million fans are expected to stream into Atlanta for the big game as well as the concerts, rallies and parties leading up to it. To put that number into perspective, it’s double the city’s population. Hartsfield-Jackson, already the world’s busiest airport, expects to shatter its own record with more than 100,000 travelers projected to pass through security in a single day. MARTA will be running around the clock. Atlanta’s police officers began working consecutive 12-hour shifts Saturday.
The coming week will test Atlanta’s leaders, infrastructure — and patience — like never before.
“I do believe we are as prepared as we can possibly be,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said.
By all accounts, the disturbance will be the greatest downtown around the stadium, where access will be restricted and security formidable. Roads around Centennial Olympic Park, the Georgia World Congress Center and Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be closed to vehicles to keep pedestrians safe while attending events. That means those heading to events downtown should give themselves plenty of extra time.
It also means delivery trucks won’t be able to make normal stops at businesses like Dantanna’s, a sports bar located in the CNN Center, right in the heart of the Super Bowl district. Plus, employees can’t park in the normal lot.
“Our biggest issue is trying to get people down here to work,” said Jay Kazlow, one of Danatana’s owners.
“The whole town expects to run out of everything,” Kazlow told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’re trying to do a lot of advanced ordering.”
The headaches will also mean extra business stretching out over the whole week.
Nearby, at Park Bar, employees are expecting to serve at least 5,000 Buffalo wings.
“The difference for this is how many days in a row we’ll be busy,” owner Mat Tainow said.
But with planning, getting to Super Bowl events — or work — is possible, according to city leaders. MARTA is expanding its service hours and will begin running around the clock early Friday. The Dome/GWCC/Philips Arena/CNN Center MARTA rail station is centrally located within the Super Bowl “footprint.” Ride-share services, like Lyft or Uber, or taxis are also options and there will be assigned drop-off and pick-up areas on Centennial Park Drive in front of the CNN Center, according to Atlanta police.
“We ask people to be patient, be flexible, be understanding,” Carlos Campos, Atlanta police spokesman, said. “This is a big event. But we want to make it as painless and fun as possible.”
Keeping it safe
Although they’d rather not be needed, law enforcement officers from various agencies will be involved in keeping Super Bowl events safe. Atlanta police department leaders traveled to both Houston and Minneapolis, sites of the past two Super Bowls, to witness other security plans. The city’s police department has worked with more than 40 state, federal and local law enforcement agencies to develop Atlanta’s plan, Chief Erika Shields said.
Shields had only been Atlanta’s top cop for two months in February 2017 when she got some news she wasn’t expecting. A team of her officers had just returned from Houston, which hosted Super Bowl LI with a message: “We’re behind.”
Fast forward to earlier this month, and Shields was confident all of the planning was worth it.
“We are so ready for this event,” she said. “We have prepared well. Our goal is to be vigilant and to be ready.”
In addition to APD, the FBI and GBI are involved in security efforts, which are mostly top-secret. The Georgia World Congress Center and MARTA also have police departments. Other metro Atlanta agencies, including the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office and Cobb County police, will send some tactical teams to help with security, Shields said. Those agencies will be paying their own officers and deputies, she said.
Atlanta’s firefighters and paramedics are also prepared to deal with additional calls, Fire Chief Randall Slaughter said.
One fire station is located less than 1,000 feet from Mercedes-Benz, Slaughter said. Paramedics will be available on bicycles, and fire inspectors will work around the clock to make sure fire codes are met, he said. Atlanta’s hospitals are also preparing, and Grady Memorial Hospital will have additional staffing, according to Dr. Hany Atallah, chief of emergency medicine.
Many hotels near the Super Bowl event sites will be staffed with medical providers for illnesses or injuries that don’t require a trip to the hospital, Atallah said.
“If they need to come, then we’re ready,” he said.
Will the locals show up?
Not everyone in Atlanta plans to take part in the Super Bowl fun.
“We will be avoiding Atlanta at all costs,” Bethany Jagdharry, a Fayetteville resident, told The AJC. “As much as my family loves sports, I’m uncertain if enough has been done to stop human trafficking, which is a huge issue with the Super Bowl each year.”
A federal government shutdown had created anxiety in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. But the FBI said security had not been comprised. Hundreds of federal agents will be in Atlanta, according to Special Agent Chris Hacker.
Other skeptics expressed concerns over traffic and negotiating city roads with so many visitors in town.
“Our goal is not scare people into coming into the city,” Campos, with Atlanta police, said. “Our goal is to educate people. Traffic in Atlanta is often heavy. Educate yourself a little bit if you’re coming into town.”
Despite traffic concerns, restaurants and bars in the area are still expecting big crowds, including a mix of travelers and locals.
“I don’t think that traffic is going to be as much of an issue as people think,” Ashley Bridges, director of marketing for STATS sports bar, said. “Having a chance to experience such a big event in your hometown doesn’t happen all the time.”
Tainow said he’ll have extra employees on hand at Park Bar and there’s an excitement leading up to the game.
“We’re looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s a premier event for Atlanta.”
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