Sculpting a New Future for Atlanta

From weedy lots to Olympic parks, city spruces up for summer Games

IN Atlanta these days, construction workers donning hard hats are as ubiquitous as businesspeople with briefcases.

On a swath of land that used to house warehouses and weedy lots, they zoom in bulldozers across the red dirt, transforming it into a 21-acre Olympic park. Down the road, workers hammer, saw, and put the finishing touches on the high-rise brick buildings that will house Olympic athletes.

And a couple miles in the opposite direction, hard-hatters work on different levels of the oval-shaped Olympic stadium, the site for the opening and closing ceremonies.

Talk of the changing skyline of Georgia's capital city and improved roads and sidewalks is on everyone's lips here. There is a sense of anticipation and cautious optimism that the Olympic building boom and spiffing up of city sites will sculpt a new future for Atlanta.

"The downtown is taking on a new life," says Truman Hartshorn, a professor of geography at Georgia State University. "I think Atlanta is going to become a much more important tourist city" as the result of the Olympics.

Barcelona, Spain, suggests that Atlanta's optimism may not mislaid. A boom in tourism is exactly what happened there, says Jeffrey Rosensweig, an economics professor at Emory University's Business School. The Spanish city's tourism increased by 30 percent after it hosted the Olympics in 1992.

"That has kept their economy growing," Dr. Rosensweig says. "We'll also get increased tourism, assuming the Olympics come off well. People who never thought of Atlanta five years ago are now very aware of it."

Despite the increased recognition that the Centennial Games will bring, Atlanta will likely not be able to sustain the phenomenal job growth it has during the past two years. During that time, the city led the nation in employment gains, adding almost 200,000 new jobs. Many of these were in the construction business and are directly related to the Olympics, Rosensweig says. He predicts a flattening out of the labor market.

Until then, however, Atlanta is the focus of attention in several areas. This summer marks the beginning of a 10-month-long schedule of sports competitions. More than 5,000 athletes who are expected to compete in 1996 will participate in 23 national and international competitions, which include six world cups, one world championship, and two Olympic qualifying events.

With 13 of the competitions scheduled during a three-week slot this summer, construction workers are putting in overtime hours to finish the venues for these trial runs. The inaugural test, the United States Rowing National Championships, took place last weekend at Lake Lanier, north of Atlanta.

Athletes aren't the only ones flocking to Atlanta. A couple dozen foreign journalists and a slew of domestic correspondents have already set up shop in the city, giving residents here a taste of the media frenzy to come.

The Yomiuri Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper with a circulation of 14 million, opened a two-person bureau in 1994. Atsushi Ihara, a correspondent with the paper, says it will have more than 30 journalists here during the Games. A total of 15,000 print and broadcast journalists are expected.

It's still too early to determine how many spectators will fill the seats and stands of Olympic events. As of June 19, the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games had handed out some 2.6 million tickets of the 11.2 million available. Tomorrow is the last day buyers can get into every session, and ACOG is pushing people to postmark their ticket forms before midnight.

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