The 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta began with a flame lit by the legendary Muhammad Ali. Twenty years later, that spark continues to fuel growth in the city General William Tecumseh Sherman once burned to the ground.
Call it reconstruction or redevelopment: What’s transpired in the Southern capital is nothing short of remarkable. Many of the current attractions drawing millions of visitors annually did not exist two decades ago, nor did a sense that the city is on par with metropolises like New York and Los Angeles when it comes to hosting major events, sports or otherwise. Igniting it all were two weeks in 1996 when Atlanta grabbed the world’s attention.
“The Olympics were a catalyst to propel Atlanta to the next level of growth, both in tourism and in business,” says Atlanta CVB President and CEO William Pate. “It introduced Atlanta to the international stage.”
While city officials and planners took an unofficial (but deserved) victory lap marking the Olympics’ 20th anniversary in July, one could also not help but get a sense a chapter was closing on the city’s history.
Between Ali’s passing in June and the Braves’ impending move from Turner Field, the symbolism has been hard to miss. But like the phoenix emerging from the ashes, Atlanta is about to undergo another transformation—made possible by the success of the Olympics, yet moving farther away from that moment in time.