Centennial Olympic Park has become the new gathering place for the city of Atlanta since its inception in 1996. The park is located in downtown Atlanta just west of the Central Business District. Within easy walking distance are the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, Imagine It! The Children's Museum of Atlanta, the Georgia Dome, CNN Center and Philips Arena. Other downtown attractions are minutes away by rapid transit or car. MARTA, Atlanta's public transit system, serves the area with three train stations, and several bus lines stop nearby.
Billy Payne, the person most responsible for bringing the Centennial Olympic Games to Atlanta, had his office overlooking the area that would become the park. As described in the Atlanta Business Chronicle, he saw "a depressing scene of dilapidated buildings and parking lots home to vagrants next to Olympic venues.'' Payne decided that the Olympics, and Atlanta, needed a gathering place, and Centennial Olympic Park was born. Payne calls the park "the most important physical legacy of the games.''
The centerpiece of the 21-acre park is the Fountain of Rings, jets of water in the shape of the five Olympic Rings that "perform'' to synchronized music and lights. The fountain is set in a "splash plaza'' that is irresistible to children and adults alike, especially in the Atlanta heat. The fountain is surrounded by eight dramatic 65-foot-tall lighting towers. Other features of the park include the Great Lawn, where families gather to play or merely sit in the sun; an amphitheater, which features live performances throughout most of the year; a children's playground and two pavilions for picnics or get-togethers.
The park hosts many events that have become Atlanta favorites. Music at Noon and the Wednesday WindDown are popular weekly concerts. The fourth Saturday of every month from April through September is Family Fun Day, a day of themed activities and performances aimed at children. The Fourth of July offers a day of family activities followed by a huge fireworks show. Each winter, Atlanta's only outdoor ice skating rink opens in the park, accompanied by Holiday in Lights, in which the entire park is festooned with thousands of lights. In addition, many special events are held in the park every year, including music and craft festivals, educational fairs, concerts by well-known recording artists, private parties and many more.
Centennial Olympic Park's effect on Atlanta has been phenomenal. About three million visitors come to the park every year, and several billion dollars have been poured into the area in private investment. The Atlanta Business Chronicle says these investments "have wrapped the park in world-class tourist destinations, hotels, restaurants and housing.'' More attractions and restaurants are planned around the park in the near future, as it continues to drive downtown Atlanta's renaissance as a tourist and resident destination. Bernie Marcus, a co-founder of Home Depot and the impetus behind the Georgia Aquarium, says in the Atlanta Business Chronicle, "It's a guiding light and shining light for the city of Atlanta. It's been a great experiment, and it's not over yet.''
Reviews of the park on Internet travel websites are good, if not great. Out-of-towners, especially, think it's "nice,'' but not spectacular. One visitor said, "Overall, I wouldn't make a special trip to Atlanta just to see the park, but if you are here, it is a pleasant place to stop.'' Several reviewers point out that it is a "nice stop between other attractions,'' that "you can park once for the day, and then enjoy all the things downtown Atlanta has to offer.'' Residents of Atlanta, on the other hand, are very fond of their park and seem to use it more for concerts, to play in the fountain, or just to relax. One woman who lives nearby said, "Great place to grab a paper and sit and drink coffee on a Sunday morning.'' If you're just passing through, you may want to use the park as a waystation to surrounding attractions, but if you live in Atlanta, this is a true park, used for family fun and relaxation.