New historic marker for 1996 Games unveiled in Centennial Olympic Park

Former Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games head Billy Payne and Atlantlocated a Mayor Kasim Reed listen to former UGA football coaching legend and Georgia Historical Society board member Vince Dooley at Tuesday mornings dedication of a historical marker to the 1996 Summer Olympics. The marker is near the visitor center in Centennial Olympic Park, the downtown gathering place that was built for the Games held in Atlanta. Photo by Jill Vejnoska

It’s just a little over 150 words on a sign not much larger than the average flat screen TV.

But the historical marker dedicated to the 1996 Summer Olympics that was unveiled Tuesday morning in Centennial Olympic Park carries an outsized message about the power to make big things happen in Atlanta.

“I’ve often said that this park is the greatest physical legacy of the Atlanta Games,” said Billy Payne, the man who first got the idea to try and bring the 1996 Summer Olympics here and then went on to run them as head of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. “But what we really did was prove to ourselves that we can achieve any dream that we articulate.”

Payne was joined by a Who's Who of heavyweights from business, politics and Atlanta's Olympic past for the dedication of a new Georgia historical marker near the park's visitor's center. Current and former Atlanta mayors Kasim Reed and Andrew Young both spoke at the ceremony, which took place in conjuction with the Georgia World Congress Center Authority being honored by the Georgia Historical Society.

"We're trying to help people understand the role that business played and continues to play in creating Georgia," GHS president W. Todd Groce said about the organization's Georgia Business History Initiative, which selects iconic companies to receive a marker that tell the story of its contributions to the development of the state and nation. "It's their park," he said of the GWCCA, which owns and operates the park in the heart of downtown, "and they wanted to tell this story (with their marker)."

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And indeed, the ceremony — which took place against a backdrop of the Georgia Aquarium, The World of Coca Cola, the College Football Hall of Fame and other nearby attractions built since 1996 — featured a fair amount of braggin’ by various speakers on how much of an economic and development engine the Games were and continue to be. The Almighty also figured into several speeches as when Young mentioned that Payne had come up with his idea to bid on the Games after spending time in church and having some heart problems.

“Billy didn’t seen the Olympics as a religious act,” Young, who traveled to 110 countries with Payne during the bidding process and later became ACOG’s co-chairman, told the crowd with a chuckle. “But, well, the Lord knows how to get your attention.”

GHS erects and maintains about 2350 markers around the state, some dating to the Civil War or earlier. This newest marker also covers the most recent period of history of any of them, Groce said. But that’s not the only reason it stands out, Reed said.

“Once we won the Atlanta Olympic Games, we never doubted ourselves again,” said the mayor, ticking off accomplishments ranging from the city’s perennial ranking as the world’s busiest airport and home to a large concentration of Fortune 500 companies to its role as the site of an upcoming Super Bowl and NCCA basketball Final Four. “So this historical marker will serve as a reminder to everybody who crosses its path … that the city of Atlanta is a place where you can bring and build your dreams.”

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