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opinion | andrew young

The Olympics — a dream worth chasing

Concertgoers filled downtown Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park for the second of three sold-out Outkast shows in September.Robb D. Cohen/Invision/AP/Invision/AP

One of the best things ever to happen to Atlanta was when Billy Payne came to talk to me about bidding for the Olympic Games. Billy was a University of Georgia football hero with a volunteer spirit and a deep desire to turn Atlanta into a global stage. At the time it seemed like a ridiculous idea, but there was something about the Olympics that was magic. We pursued the idea and discovered we could run the Olympics as a private nonprofit with no government funds — and ensure the city would profit and not end up in debt. I decided this was a dream come true — and it’s a dream I have never regretted chasing. The same can hold true for the people of Boston.

In the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games, I saw the possibilities of extending Atlanta’s civil rights legacy. There are clearly parallel values at the heart of Coubertin’s Olympic Movement — uniting the world in friendship and peace with respect for the full diversity of humanity — and the goals of the civil rights movement: to overcome discrimination through social integration and to give every human being an equal opportunity to achieve academically and economically.

As Atlanta’s mayor, I also saw the potential of harnessing the Games — and the tremendous economic investments they would produce — to accelerate many of the civic priorities we had put in place in Atlanta. I believed the Games would help us push the transformation of downtown Atlanta, rebuild and revitalize our troubled public housing projects, and extend in very real ways Atlanta’s equal economic opportunity business practices.


In all three cases, my faith was well served: Today, Centennial Olympic Park remains the sparkling centerpiece of Atlanta’s Olympic legacy — for $75 million in private donations, with no expense to taxpayers. The park has a served as an economic engine for downtown growth for the last 20 years.

Ten years after the Games, the park was surrounded by $1.5 billion in new developments — the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, the Atlanta Children’s Museum, Phillips Arena, new hotels, condos, shops, and restaurants. Last year, two major new attractions opened — the College Football Hall of Fame and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. All in all, with the park acting as a primary catalyst, there has been more than $2.3 billion invested since the Games and there’s another $1.8 billion on the boards.

And yet, the physical legacy is far greater than that. The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games built eight sports venues out of its marketing revenues — more than $500 million in new facilities, with no taxpayer exposure — and seven of them are still serving their communities. Atlanta’s Olympic Stadium, which became Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves post-Olympics, has served the city as its Major League Baseball stadium ever since. Two years ago, the Danish Institute for Sport Studies published its World Stadium Index, an analysis of the sustainability of 75 stadiums built for major events worldwide over the last 25 years — and Turner Field ranked number one on the list, the greatest single sustainability success story in global sport.


In addition, the Olympic Village on the campus of Georgia Tech, financed and built by the state’s university system, provided new or renovated housing for 14,000 athletes and officials, and has provided residences for more than 150,000 students since.

Among our greatest legacies was the redevelopment of a number of social housing projects. Through a public-private partnership between the Atlanta Development Authority and the Atlanta Housing Authority — with financial support from HUD — we created a new model of mixed affordable and market housing that delivered thousands of new homes — and new lives — to a wide range of Atlanta residents.

Through its Equal Economic Opportunity Program, the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games also delivered an extraordinary business development platform for companies headed by women and minorities. While the Olympic Games generated 77,000 full- and part-time jobs over the course of their development, I was particularly proud of the fact that before the Games began, approximately 33 percent of the Games’ $684 million procurement expenditures and construction contracts had gone to female and minority businesses or individuals.


I hope my perspective helps make it clear to the people of Boston that the Olympic Games can help a city reach for greatness in many unique ways.

Ask any one of the 51,881 volunteers, 6,560 staff, or 78,240 accredited contractors who put on the 1996 Summer Games and they’ll tell you this: Boston, you’re in for the opportunity of a lifetime if you land the 2024 Olympics — and you’ll still be basking in the golden glow of the legacy 20 years later, just as Atlanta still is.

Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young served as cochairman of the Atlanta Committee for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. He is a former US ambassador to the UN.