Life after the Olympics: post-game setbacks will be temporary

It's over. After six years of planning, building and anticipating, Atlanta is now part of the Olympic legacy. Where do we go from here? Can Atlanta continue the growth and spirit of the Games into the next millennium? Many experts say Atlanta's regional outlook looks bright after the Olympics, with only temporary dips in momentum.

Atlanta didn't win the Olympics based on what it could be but rather on what it is and has accomplished. The city's steady growth as well as high-ranking business and consumer confidence were large contributors. According to Donald Ratajczak, director of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University, "A slowdown is inevitable, but a slump is not." One reason the end of the Olympics will not be catastrophic to the local economy is that the Games are a one-time aberration, having a relatively small impact on the area's economy. In fact, according to Ratajczak, recent projections on the Olympics, economic impact on Georgia will be about $1 billion less than the official forecast of $5.1 billion.

Atlanta led the nation in job growth during the past four years. Although Atlanta has experienced layoffs from large-and mid-sized corporations, it continues to gain jobs from cutbacks in other cities. National corporations look to Atlanta to expand operations where costs are low, markets are growing, and skilled workers are abundant. Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta say that the region's attractions - economic diversification, low heating costs, low taxes, few unions, and a minimum of local and state regulations - are enduring, suggesting growth for a long period of time.

Even without the Olympics, Atlanta consistently ranks high on national lists of the best cities in the world for business and as a good place to live. Compared to other large metropolitan areas, Atlanta's cost of doing business is low. Tax burdens are moderate, housing prices are attractive, and consumer goods are priced competitively.

Experts predict that Atlanta's employment will increase by an average of 2.8% per annum to the year 20000. While the surge in employment in transportation and communications this year will decrease in 1997, Ratajczak further predicts that "any post-Olympic setbacks will be temporary." The "cooling off" period in Atlanta will be due to both the post-Games decline in activity, as well as a slowing national economy. Nonetheless, there exists considerable "pent-up" construction demand, and Atlanta's employment is expected to increase by a healthy 47,700 jobs in 1977 - indicating that there is life after the Olympics."

This city will never be the same. The dream which began for a few Atlantans has become a reality for millions. Our city has undergone a major transformation, jump-starting many improvement programs. Taking a long-range view, Corporation for Olympic Development in Atlanta (CODA) transformed nine major streets in the downtown area into pleasant, "pedestrian-friendly corridors." CODA's hope, to stimulate economic revival of downtown neighborhoods, seems to be working. Recent interest among loft developers and retailers has increased. CODA is also responsible for the successful redevelopment of Woodruff Park.

Optimism is high among downtown businesses that investment in downtown housing will springboard Atlanta's life after dark. An article in Commercial Investment Real Estate Journal states that "the most attractive investment opportunities are the 24-hour cities, large urban central business districts with a sufficient concentration of office, multifamily, retail and entertainment to support a thriving all-day, all-night culture." Atlantans are starved for a 24-hour city the likes of New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

The Olympics have left us with the beginning of an infrastructure to turn this hope into a reality. A recent study by Arthur Andersen Real Estate Advisory Services Group concludes that "a key element for the long-term health of downtown Atlanta is further development of housing of all types in the city core." A healthy residential downtown community creates a demand for retail goods, personal services and entertainment facilities. The mayor's new Renaissance Program continues the momentum of economic and community development after the Olympics. The goal is to make downtown a 24-hour city with restaurants, shops, sports and entertainment facilities.

When people decide to move into the downtown area, sufficient security is a major factor. The new Ambassador Force has made a tremendous difference downtown. A recent report found crime down 53% during its first four months of operation. Officials feel Olympic improvements will help as well. Georgia State's $14 million renovation of the Rialto Theatre in the Fairlie-Poplar district and the renovation of office buildings into market-rate housing units have also made the area more pedestrian friendly.

This was the year Atlanta needed in order to become an authentic metropolitan city. Because of the Olympics, we can now check off the following from our wish list- completion of a major expansion to Hartsfield Airport, improvements in and around Georgia State University campus, extension of MARTA lines into the northern suburbs, redevelopment of Techwood Homes, road projects, a facelift for the Woodruff Arts Center, and the restoration of Piedmont Park. A $150 million bond referendum was also approved for much-needed public improvements, and Atlanta was designated an Empowerment Zone by the federal government, entitling the city to $100 million in federal funds to help redevelop the area, attract new businesses and create jobs inside the Olympic Ring.

The world has come and gone, leaving Atlanta with a host of Olympic legacies worth over [email protected] billion. How we use them and how we maintain them will determine their final value. The Olympic Stadium will be converted into 48,000-seat baseball stadium and will be given to the city for use by the Atlanta Braves. The Olympic Village will provide seven new residence halls for Georgia Tech and Georgia State University students.

The privately financed Centennial Olympic Park Area (COPA) in the city's central business district will become a permanent commemorative park. COPA is the focal point for Central Atlanta Progress' post-olympic redevelopment plan. A sports arena/retail corridor and entertainment district would link the park into the old downtown business district. According to Barry Tindall, public policy director for the National Recreation and Park Association, "Park recreation space is often the vehicle through which renewed economic development can occur."

The Olympics are over, the legacies remain, the programs are in place. Now what? Much work remains to be done. The end of the Olympics will be noted as the catalyst for Atlanta's urban reform. The city has undergone a major transformation. Atlanta has always looked to the future and reinvented itself," taking risks and embracing opportunities. Not only is there life after the Olympics, but if we work to maintain our economic growth and take advantage of the Olympic momentum, there can be life after dark in a vibrant, 24-hour city.

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