The Atlanta Civic Center, the largest performance stage in the Southeast, is located in downtown Atlanta. Nearby attractions include Centennial Olympic Park, the World of Coca-Cola, the Georgia Aquarium, the Fox Theatre, the Georgia Dome and Philips Arena. The venue is immediately accessible from the Interstate 75/85 Downtown Connector. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is about fifteen minutes away. MARTA, Atlanta's public transit system, has a train station about one-quarter of a mile away, and the center is also served by bus. Parking is available for approximately 1,000 vehicles.
The Civic Center opened in 1968, a project brought to fruition by Mayor Ivan Allen Jr., who oversaw many civic and arts projects in Atlanta during the 1960s. The venue was built to accommodate the Metropolitan Opera's annual visits to Atlanta, which were a social and artistic tradition going back to 1910. Despite being more than 40 years old, the venue's size continues to bring in bookings, although its acoustics and technical features are considered out-of-date. In the 1980s, it was named one of the city's "architectural beasts,'' and, by the 1990s, the center was well-known, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for "the mausoleum ambience, the canyon-like acoustics, the broken seats, the shortage of women's toilets.''
The 4,600-seat center underwent an extensive renovation in 2001, which fixed some of its cosmetic and comfort flaws. The venue is now booked about 260 days a year with crowd-pleasing exhibitions like King Tut, Bodies ... The Exhibition and America I AM; concerts from performers like Erykah Badu and Morris Day and the Time; comedy tours; conventions and commencement ceremonies. The Civic Center's theater is available for event rental, and the complex offers 5,800 square feet of meeting space, as well. The ballroom seats up to 500 people theater-style or up to 300 for a banquet. The plaza and lobbies are also available for receptions.
As a premier event facility, however, newer or more glamorous venues outshine the Civic Center. The AJC says that the "sprawling airplane hangar of a venue'' is too large for many shows and "lacks the Fox's cachet.'' Two new spaces, the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre and Gwinnett Center, in Atlanta's suburbs, are more modern and better suited to today's performance standards. The Atlanta Opera, which had its home at the Civic Center from 2003 to 2007, left its "disastrous former venue,'' again according to the AJC, for Cobb Energy's more intimate and acoustically dynamic theater.
In fact, the City of Atlanta, which owns and operates the Civic Center, has been considering redevelopment plans for the space for several years, which may include adding onto the complex or razing the center completely, although no decision is likely in the near future. If the center can continue to book popular exhibitions like Bodies and King Tut, its future should be secure, but, as of this writing, even Bodies has found a new home in Atlanta. Among reviewers on the Internet, the venue is not rated very highly. One person says, "It reminds me of a high school auditorium.'' Another notes that the Civic Center is "not a bad venue, but not one I really get excited about going to in comparison to other places in Atlanta.''