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As a local community leader in the Mechanicsville and Summerhill neighborhoods, Janis Ware witnessed these same changes. She's hesitant to express enthusiasm on par with Newman's sentiments over the Olympics' effect, but she does ultimately believe that the city benefitted from these changes to housing policies and community development.
"The fact is that under the guise of progress [prior to the Olympics], Mechanicsville and Summerhill suffered dramatically," she says. "I think the Olympics really did help in a lot of ways because the picture that they wanted to present to the world was totally different from what actually existed in a lot of cases."
Not everyone, however, viewed the Olympics in a positive light on the local level. With Turner Field set to be built in proximity of communities like Mechanicsville, Peoplestown, and Summerhill, others had issues with the sprawling surface parking consuming those sites. This would lead undesired traffic to seep into residential areas, inevitably causing a spike in crime rates.
"I think there were a lot of people in the community that were not in support of another major facility being built in the neighborhood because the Fulton County Stadium was already here," Ware says. "So now you want to put another huge monstrosity in the neighborhood, so you're disrupting lives again, purchasing additional property, relocating people and determining what can take place in the redevelopment initiative of that."
ACOG received condemnation authority from the city of Atlanta, thereby giving it the right to vacate and demolish properties for public use. Despite an emphasis on community engagement during this sensitive process, Newman points out that the process didn't always happen in commendable fashion.
"We repeated some errors in terms of treatment of low-income residents in terms of moving them out abruptly," he reflects. "Atlanta has had a long history of that so it's neither the first nor the largest [displacement]."
A quick drive through these three neighborhoods offers a sense of how the communities have fared, how the Olympics altered some community dynamics. Summerhill underwent some gentrification due to the games, Frazier notes. Street of Dreams — a section of Pryor Road where approximately 15 single-family detached houses were built to "present" Mechanicsville in a better light — shows some wear and tear but still stands tall.
The downside of the Olympics
To critics of the Olympic effort, who suggested (and still say) the Atlanta Olympics led to a sterile final product, devoid of real Southern culture or influence, its privatization was a large part of the problem. In short, it means there was little interest in a post-games examination of what was done wrong. ACOG's privatization meant that the organization soon dissolved after the games. No comprehensive studies took place to assess the larger overall Olympic impact on the local, economic, or cultural levels. It was an unfortunate by-product of a truly national spectacle that had no national backing from a financial standpoint.
That doesn't make the effort any less singular in retrospect. Richard Diggelmann — Kodak's former Director of Corporate Sponsorship during the Seoul, Barcelona, and Atlanta summer games — remains convinced that Atlanta's privatization emerged as a rare moment in Olympic history, one that likely will never be repeated.
"I think it's impossible now for any Olympic to be done on a totally private basis," he says. "There just isn't the money. ... I don't think you're ever going to see another privatized games. It's too horrendous of an investment."
When Diggelmann refers to the scale of an Olympic investment, it's not hard to find additional shortcomings with the Atlanta games due to a lack of public funding. The first thing that often comes up is the crass commercialization surrounding the games. In Olympic marketing, the IOC sells ambush-free rights (ambush marketing occurs when someone tries to associate its product with yours without authorization) to companies, giving them exclusive Olympic licenses while prohibiting competitors from doing so. Despite these contracts, the city of Atlanta tried to bend the rules in its favor.
"Munson Steed's name comes to mind." Diggelmann says. "I guess the most famous and notorious of the efforts in ambush marketing that happened here in Atlanta were these stalls that were being sold to people, whereby there was really no ambush protection."
When Atlanta was awarded the Olympics 22 years ago, it was forever changed. For better or worse is still being debated.
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