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SPIGOLON: How will future generations view the effects of the 1996 Olympics?
JO Atlanta 1996 - Stade
The 100m hurdles during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta featured Nicole Ramalalanirina (MAD), Lynda Goode (USA), Nataly Shekhodanova (RUS), Brigita Bukovec (SLO), Michelle Freeman (JAM), Julie Baumann (SUI), Kristin Patzwahl (GER) and Angie Thorp (GBR) - photo by Courtesy of CDC

It’s been a quarter of a century since Atlanta hosted the 1996 Olympics after it beat out Athens, Greece, for the right to be the site of the 100th Games.

Many have said it changed the area for the better by bringing attention to Atlanta — especially downtown — and making it a sports destination for events like the Super Bowl and NCAA basketball’s Final Four.

Others say it changed Atlanta for the worst — especially those who lived and grew up in the area before 1996.

Who’s right? I guess it depends on the angle from which you view it.

One of the most visible effects of the Games can be seen today in the venues it spawned. 

The one closest to Newton County is the Georgia International Horse Park off Georgia Hwy. 138 in Rockdale County. 

What was once land used for disposing of sewer water became the Olympics equestrian venue. The long, narrow strip of land bordering the Yellow River between Hwy. 138 and the Newton County line includes a main arena and 10 smaller arena buildings. 

It hosts events year-round, including Snapping Shoals EMC’s annual Meeting of Members this week. 

After the Olympics, it became a horse show facility and grew to host concerts, fairs, festivals, obstacle course races, rodeos, dog shows and more.

It is adjacent to Cherokee Run Golf Club and a hotel; and also includes the 173-acre Big Haynes Creek Nature Center that has a canoe launch, observation pavilion overlooking wetlands and nature trails.

Other places have attracted more national attention and tourism, mainly because of their proximity to major sporting events at the now-demolished Georgia Dome and the former Turner Field.

Centennial Olympic Park became the centerpiece of a rehabilitated downtown area, including an entertainment and hospitality district with new restaurants, hotels, and residential development — encouraging people to live downtown for the first time in decades.

State Farm Arena built on the former site of the Omni arena, and attractions like the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, the Center for Civil and Human Rights, and College Football Hall of Fame followed — all because of Centennial Olympic Park.

The Olympics rowing event venue remains in Gainesville at Lake Lanier. The Olympics beach volleyball facility became the centerpiece of the Clayton County International Waterpark.

Other venues did not fare as well, such as the Olympic tennis facility near Stone Mountain Park which was neglected for years before being demolished.

For those who never knew or cared about Georgia’s Major League Baseball team, the Atlanta Braves moved into the Olympic Stadium and used it as their home for years after their original home, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was demolished.

The Braves called it Turner Field and used the converted stadium for years before moving to their own, custom-built stadium in the Vinings/Smyrna area of Cobb County in 2017.

Turner Field then was converted again to become Georgia State University’s home football stadium.

Meanwhile, some of Metro Atlanta’s largest employers saw their profile grow dramatically from the international exposure, including Home Depot, Delta Air Lines, Coca-Cola and UPS.

It also likely led to Atlanta becoming the Southeast’s major business hub with numerous Fortune 500 companies setting up shop here.

But the Games also are credited, for better or worse, with leading to a rapid population increase in Metro Atlanta. 

The region added about 2 million new residents in 15 years after the Games, leading to a major increase in traffic and many new residents from outside the U.S.

Construction of parts of the Olympics area led to relocation of longtime residents. And, even with a major sports stadium nearby, Turner Field actually did little to help redevelop the area surrounding it.

Metro Atlanta’s population boom spilled over into formerly rural surrounding counties and transforming areas like Newton and Henry counties.

We got infrastructure, exposure and new development many cities beg for. But we also got the ill effects of very rapid growth which allowed a Metro area with few natural barriers, like an ocean, to expand dramatically.

It will be interesting to see how future historians — and future Metro Atlanta residents — view this time in the region’s history.  

Tom Spigolon is news editor of The News. Reach him at