For 10 days in February, tens of thousands will descend on a city to witness the spectacle of America’s most-watched sporting event: the Super Bowl.
A mere seven months stand between now and the Feb. 3 kickoff to Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
State and local officials acknowledge that being a successful host of such a large event often comes down to planning.
Atlanta has twice been home to the Super Bowl — in 1994, when the Dallas Cowboys soundly defeated the Buffalo Bills, and in 2000, when the then St. Louis Rams beat the Tennessee Titans with a last-minute key tackle on the one yard line.
In the 18 years since the city last hosted the event, the area has undergone profound changes. Midtown has boomed. And city leaders have tamed the old Buckhead party scene that made national news after former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was involved in a deadly brawl the night of the Super Bowl.
The Colbalt, the night club were Lewis partied with friends no longer exists, and a 20-story tower now stands at the site of the slayings.
Metro Atlanta has added 1.6 million residents since 2000, according to U.S. Census data, as the area’s high job growth rate has turned Atlanta into a top-10 metro area nationally. And Census figures released earlier this year showed the metro area to be the third fastest growing in the nation from 2016 to 2017.
But with 200 days before the big game, will Atlanta be ready to shine on the national stage?
Although we’ve hosted before, the city does face a few challenges hosting major events.
After the National College Championship game in January, inadequate staffing, poor communication and ineffective crowd control led to chaos at MARTA’s Five Points Station. For hours, hundreds of passengers were jammed onto a platform after the game waiting for northbound trains until nearly 2 a.m.
Witnesses described conditions as dangerous and frightening. It was so crowded that people struggled to get off arriving trains.
MARTA spokeswoman Stephany Fisher said the agency has gone to great lengths to learn from the experience. MARTA officials have hired an outside consultant to run “tabletop experts” where top executives respond to simulated events involving weather, protests, service disruptions and station overcrowding.
Fisher said MARTA will deploy “load and go” teams to help facilitate passengers getting on and off the trains. Additionally, the agency will send “transit ambassadors” to help visitors not familiar with the system.
Fisher said that MARTA is also focused on communicating with federal, state and local agencies.
“Everybody is talking about how can we best provide a great experience,” Fisher said.
Hopes for good weather
The Super Bowl is seen as a 10-day event, with events stretching from Jan. 26 until Feb. 4, and the Atlanta Police Department is the lead agency when it comes to the Super Bowl’s security procedures. APD will have a final security plan ready to submit to the NFL in October, said Atlanta Police Deputy Chief Scott Kreher.
The department will be recruiting help from other law enforcement agencies in the metro area to cope with the strain the event will put on the APD’s staffing. In addition to handling security, police will also be tasked with assisting in directing traffic during the hectic game-time activities.
Kreher said APD is encouraging anyone going to downtown during that 10-day period to use MARTA or access ride shares due to the increased number of people in the city and the limited parking.
While the majority of the roads and streets surrounding Mercedes-Benz are under the authority of the city, the Georgia Department of Transportation is tasked with overseeing state routes which connect downtown to the Atlanta suburbs and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
The DOT is already identifying construction projects that will be going on in the metro area, said spokeswoman Natalie Dale.
Another concern is the possibility of winter weather.
Two ice storms hit Atlanta the last time it hosted the Super Bowl, causing dangerous, icy conditions. Since then, Dale said, Georgia DOT has come “leaps and bounds” in terms of its brine supply and road-treating equipment.
Dale said it is not too early for Atlanta companies to start considering flexible schedules surrounding the event and for residents to plan for using MARTA instead of driving downtown if possible.
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