State opens Liberty Plaza across from Capitol

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The Georgia Capitol’s new “front door” is now open.

State officials on Friday welcomed Liberty Plaza, a $4.4 million park across the street from the statehouse, with an elaborate ceremony that included the ringing of a replica Liberty Bell.

The idea for the park was first conceived in 1910 but for decades the site remained a parking lot near the hemmed-in statehouse complex.

The Georgia Building Authority has for decades tried to create more green space and a safer place to hold events around the statehouse. That's because many larger events, from press conferences to protests, took place on the steps of the Capitol, and overflowing crowds forced troopers to shut down streets.

But lawmakers have long been reluctant to set aside money for Capitol spending projects. So the building authority raised the funds by selling off unneeded buildings, avoiding a budget fight. They then used the funds to tear down the 60-year-old parking deck.

The finished product features a grassy oval center surrounded by pavement and wide steps for sitting. It includes two 1950s-era presents: A replica of the Liberty Bell donated to the state by the Truman Administration and a miniature Statue of Liberty gifted by the Boy Scouts of America in 1951.

A third feature could soon join the area Gov. Nathan Deal said at a separate ceremony Friday that plans are underway for a new statue of Martin Luther King Jr. to be placed across the street. Organizers want to raise at least $100,000 in private funds for the project.

Workers rushed to finish the plaza in time for Deal’s second-term inauguration on Monday, but bad weather forced him to move the ceremony indoors. On Friday, he said it would be the venue for many of the outdoor events held at the statehouse each year, as well as a new gathering spot for visitors and employees.