Learning From Georgia I: Centennial Olympic Park

June 1, 2007 27 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

While Jacksonville is known for having the largest urban park system in the country, it doesn't take much to see that we struggle to get the most out of our parks. Let's take a look at how Atlanta, another Sunbelt Sprawler, has created one of the most successful urban public spaces in less than ten years.

Centennial Olympic Park history

Less than two decades ago, the neighborhood surrounding Centennial Olympic Park was a run-down section of town. That all began to change on the day Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games CEO Billy Payne gazed out of his office window and a brilliant inspiration came to him - to convert a multi-block eyesore into a glorious 21 acre gathering spot for visitors and residents to enjoy during the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games and for years to come.

Atlanta responded to that vision with tremendous support. The estimated $75 million in development costs came entirely from private-sector donations - contributions in the form of commemorative bricks, funds raised by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, and local philanthropic foundation grants.  The community's support, coupled with the willingness of the State of Georgia to take the lead in the Park's development and to assume ownership after the Games, transformed a dream into a grand reality - Centennial Olympic Park.


The Far Coast is one of the new sidewalk cafes catering to park visitors.  Notice the inclusion of outdoor dining facing public park space. 


A family plays on the park's Great Lawn, as construction cranes rise in the background. 


 The "Fountain of Rings" interactive fountain is a key feature in the public park.  The fountain's splash pad was designed for children to play in, as well as for concert goers and joggers to cool off in.


Centennial Olympic Park plays host to a diverse range of features.  These include an amphitheater, a sidewalk cafe/visitor's center, an interactive fountain, great lawn, and a couple of children's playground areas.



 The park was funded, in part, by the donations of thousands of individuals who "bought" bricks, $35 dollars a piece, engraved with the short message of their choice and laid as paver's throughout the park.

For more information: - www.centennialpark.com


Embracing Connectivity Brings Urban Synergy

The park's integration with its surroundings has led to it becoming a catalyst for additional development in Atlanta's downtown. The new World of Coca-Cola museum is being built next to the Georgia Aquarium just north of the park and Imagine It! The Children’s Museum of Atlanta opened on March 1, 2004 on a corner just northeast of the park.

Other significant attractions or developments surrounding the park include The Georgia World Congress Center, the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, The Atlanta Apparel Mart, the Omni Hotel, and The Tabernacle (formerly a House of Blues location during the games), and the CNN Center, CNN's world headquarters. The Georgia Dome and Philips Arena are just a block away.



The World of Coke

The World of Coca-Cola is a permanent exhibition featuring the history of Coca-Cola and its well-known advertising as well as a host of entertainment areas and attractions. It is located at Pemberton Place (named in honor of John Pemberton, the inventor of Coca-Cola), a 20-acre complex located across Baker Street from Centennial Olympic Park that also includes the Georgia Aquarium.

The new two floor facility measures 85,000 sq. ft. (with 35,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space) and contains a host of attractions including the World's largest collection of Coke memorabilia, a fully functioning bottling line that produces commemorative 8-ounce bottles of Coca-­Cola, a 'tasting experience' with over 70 different products to sample, a Pop Culture Gallery featuring works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell, and Steve Penley, the World-famous Coca-­Cola® Polar Bear and a 4-D film Theater showing a 3-D film entitled 'In Search of the Secret Formula' in which an eccentric scientist and his assistant undertake a quest to uncover the mysterious secret formula of Coca-Cola.The 'New' World of Coca-Cola is expected to attract between 1.2 to 1.5 million visitors a year.

The previous World of Coca-Cola Atlanta opened in August of 1990. It had 23,000 sq. feet of exhibition space and, in addition to the museum exhibit, the attraction included an Everything Coca-Cola gift store that carried a wide selection of Coca-Cola branded merchandise. On April 7, 2007, having hosted over 13 million visitors, it closed its doors in preparation for the opening of the new, larger facility on May 24, 2007. The building housing the previous World of Coke was sold by The Coca­Cola Company to the State of Georgia.

For more information: www.woccatlanta.com



The Georgia Aquarium

In November of 2001, Bernard Marcus announced his idea to build an aquarium as a present to Atlanta, Georgia that would encourage both education and economic growth. Marcus and his wife, Billi visited 56 aquariums in 13 countries to research and design a structure and finally, donated $250 million toward Georgia Aquarium’s construction. Due to financial contributions from AirTran Airways, BellSouth, Georgia- Pacific, The Home Depot, Southern Company, Turner Broadcasting System, UPS, and the Coca- Cola Company, the company opened debt free.

After 27 months and with 60 animal habitats, 16 4000-square-foot ball rooms, food service kitchens, gift shops, a 4-D theater, an on-site restaurant, and a parking lot, the Georgia Aquarium opened first on November 21, 2005 to annual pass holders and then on November 23, 2005 to the general public. At $24.00 per adult, the price of admission to the non-profit aquarium is among the most expensive in the country.

The aquarium has far exceeded visitor expectations, welcoming its millionth guest on March 1, 2006, only ninety-eight days after opening. The aquarium sold over 290,000 annual passes for its first year, before sales were halted (to avoid a "private club" atmosphere, according to Aquarium Executive Director Jeff Swanagan). The Georgia Aquarium welcomed its three millionth guest on August 24, 2006 and its five millionth on May 23, 2007.


For more information: www.georgiaaquarium.org



The CNN Center

The CNN Center is the world headquarters of the Cable News Network (CNN). The main news rooms and sets for the anchors of several of CNN's news channels are located in the building. It is located downtown in Atlanta, Georgia next to Centennial Olympic Park. The CNN Center opened in 1976 as the Omni International, which was a development by Cousins Properties Inc. that was unsuccessful until CNN moved its headquarters there in 1987 from its Midtown Atlanta site.

The CNN Center also houses a major hotel (the Omni) and a tourist-oriented shopping mall and large food court. CNN's multi-channel output to the world is broadcast on large screens around the center. Studio tours are available and include demonstrations of the technologies such as Chroma key as well as visits to viewing galleries overlooking the newsrooms and anchors of CNN, CNN Headline News and CNN en Español.

The space that CNN occupies in CNN Center used to be home for the The World of Sid and Marty Krofft amusement park. The park -- the world's first indoor theme park -- opened in 1976 and closed six months later.  The atrium escalator that is used to transport visitors on the CNN tour has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest freestanding (supported only at the ends) escalator in the world.

For more information: www.cnn.com/StudioTour



Spurring Complementing Development


The mission of Imagine It! The Children's Museum of Atlanta, is to create environments and activities through which young children experience the power of imagination and the fun in learning with each other and with grown-ups. Best enjoyed by kids up to age 8, the museum features some permanent hands-on exhibits and traveling exhibits in partnership with other major children's museums.


A 321-room Embassy Suites Hotel (1999) and attached 98 unit condo complex called Centennial Park West were the first two projects to be built adjacent to the park by the Legacy Property Group in 2002.


Ruth Chris Steakhouse takes up a portion of the Embassy Suites hotel, at street level, facing Centennial Olympic Park.


The Park Pavilion can be seen rising in the background, next to the aquarium.

The Park Pavilion complex is the Legacy's latest mixed-use project, just next door to the Embassy Suites hotel.  When complete in late 2007, it will by anchored by a 242-room Hilton Garden Inn, 45,000 square feet of retail/restaurant space facing Centennial Park and a 670-car parking deck.  Across the street, Legacy is developing Restaurant Row, which will include five restaurants, including a major sports bar by Metro Entertainment in conjunction with 790 The Zone radio station.  The first restaurants are set to open by the end of 2007.



Centennial Olympic Park now plays host to thousands of visitors a year.  Furthermore, the success of embracing connectivity and clustering a diverse, yet complementing mix of uses has created the type of urban synergy that has created markets for additional uses, such as sketch artists (above) and horse & carriage rides (below).




What does this mean for Jacksonville?

As stated in the past, the key concepts to grasp are the terms "Connectivity" and "Clustering".  With underutilized public spaces all over the core, it's time to refocus our energy on loading them up with a compact setting of complementing development that's well integrated with our urban spaces.  Then and only then, will we see true vibrancy take hold of our greenspaces.

Klutho Park, which lies between downtown & Springfield, is one of many that could benefit from the concept of "clustering" that has bought success to Centennial Olympic Park.  Bringing this space back to life would be a huge boost in reconnecting pedestrian activity, between two of Jacksonville's most popular inner city districts.