Gearing Up for Olympics - And for Scarlet Sequel
Sticky Southern heat can't dampen expectations - a letter from Atlanta
ATLANTA — THE dog days of August are barking in Georgia. Heat and humidity wrap Atlanta.But all is not sluggish here. Next month state and local politicians - under the watchful eye of the federal judiciary - reach the 10 count in drawing up new voting districts. Minority representation must reflect the 1990 census. Here Martin Luther King Jr. gave birth to the civil rights movement; the right to vote one of its enduring legacies. Also next month, the long-awaited sequel to Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind" debuts. The original sold 28 million copies and inspired one of the greatest films of all times. The big question that folks here have had to put off "till tomorrow" will be answered: "Does Scarlet get Rhett back?" One thing that's not being put off is expectation for the coming Olympic games. Even though it is five years distant, it is keenly anticipated already. The world is coming to town: From July 20-Aug. 4, 1996, Atlanta will host the XXVI Olympiad marking the 100th anniversary of the modern Olumpic Games. It will be the first Olympiad held in the American South and the first summer games ever held in the United States east of the Mississippi River. The urgency to bring it all off successfully is as palpable as a summer thunderstorm. The effort to stage the games takes place in a city still comfortable calling itself a town. Famous for its boosterism and Southern hospitality, almost everyone in Atlanta welcomes the games. Independent polls show a negative response of less than 3 percent, and 130,000 residents have signed commitments to volunteer. Business interests envision a bonanza from the estimated $3.5 billion in revenues. Elected officials recognize a once-in-a-generation opportunity to turn $550 million in new construction int o a quality-of-life windfall. Core city dwellers (the city is 60 percent African-American), who watched the rapid growth of the suburbs in the last decade pass them by, harbor guarded hopes that they will directly benefit from this boom. Their representatives already sit at the planning table. City officials say they won't raise taxes to pay for the games. Corporate sponsorships and the sale of TV broadcast rights will provide the bulk of the funds. Though not a penny can be raised until after the Barcelona Olympics, and before a single shovel breaks red Georgia clay, proto-typical Atlantan confidence exudes from the headquarters of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games - the same confidence that won the games for Atlanta in the first place. Committee officials predict more than 80 perc ent of total revenue will be in place by the end of 1992. This is a media-savvy city. The thought of more than 15,000 representatives of the international press that are expected to walk its streets triggers the imagination here with an immediacy unlike any other major American city. Its citizens saw the struggle for civil rights carried forward in large measure through Dr. King's shrewd use of television and the press. This reporter is but one of an advance horde who will arrive at Hartsfield International Airport curious about this "Southern town" hosting the Olympics. The 16 days of athletics five years hence will attract an estimated 700,000 visitors, greater than any previous Atlanta convention or event. Some 3 billion TV viewers - more than half the people on earth, its promoters like to point out - are likely to will watch the games. The city will sit in the middle of it all like an open window. In public and private pronouncements Atlantans have thrown down their own gauntlet. Of course, they say, the games held here will be run better than any before. But they add another pledge: The games will improve the way of life of every member of the community, especially the urban poor. When the media zoom in, this city wants to be judged on both counts. That's how they plan to run for the gold in Atlanta.