Centennial Olympic Park Sees Green as a Music Venue

December 9,2014


Downtown Atlanta’s biggest greenspace — Centennial Olympic Park — is becoming one of the metro area’s newest draws for ticketed concerts as well.

The state-run park has long hosted occasional free shows but is shifting toward large events such as last summer’s hugely popular Outkast concert, next spring’s Sweetwater 420 Festival and a Foo Fighters concert in the fall of 2015.

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority is considering buying and demolishing the Metro Atlanta Chamber building adjacent to the park and use the 1-acre site to create more space for such events.

State officials say they don’t envision the park competing with traditional venues such as Philips Arena or area amphitheaters. But the authority stands to get hundreds of thousands in additional revenue it can use to bolster convention recruitment and amenities.

It also helps to boost the city’s destination appeal, which is on an upswing with new attractions such as the College Football Hall of Fame, the Center for Civil and Human Rights and the SkyView Atlanta Ferris wheel.

Authority leaders have floated the idea of a Chamber building to the business organization but don’t have a timetable for when a decision will be made.

Executive Director Frank Poe pointed out that the park’s plans for more ticketed events does not hinge on adding the acreage.

The chamber’s land is attractive because it would give the park more usable event space, improve its aesthetics and improve the view for visitors of the new College Football Hall of Fame, which is mostly blocked by the chamber building.

In a statement, Chamber Chief Operating Officer Brian McGowan said, “The Metro Atlanta Chamber building is not necessarily for sale, but considering this request is coming from the State of Georgia for a public purpose, we are listening.”

Two people familiar with the matter said the business group needs to determine a value of the building, the cost to move its operations to a new location and whether such a move makes financial sense.

New energy

The authority’s move toward Centennial concerts is part of a long-term master plan to pump new energy into its campus and Atlanta’s convention and tourism business in general.

Those steps include construction of a $1.4 billion retractable-roof stadium to replace the Georgia Dome and a possible new 800- to 1,200-room hotel. The Olympic rings water feature — one of the park’s biggest draws — and its winding reflecting pool would also get upgrades.

But competition in metro Atlanta for performers to fill its vast number of venues is stiff. The area boasts well known performance halls and arenas as Aaron’s Amphitheater at Lakewood, Cobb Energy Center, Philips Arena, Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Alpharetta and the Arena at Gwinnett Center.

The GWCCA also has its own venue in the Dome — One Direction played there in October and Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift shows are slated for next year — while the convention center recently hosted a concert by rapper MattyB.

“We don’t see Centennial cannibalizing the Dome or the Congress Center,” spokeswoman Jennifer LeMaster said.

Still, the GWCCA’s efforts to up at the ante on its campus mark the most extensive push the authority has made to keep pace with competitors such as Chicago, Las Vegas and Orlando since the opening in 2003 of Building C.

Poe said the idea is to make the park a “must-have” for convention planners, concert promoters and meeting coordinators.

“The events we have had so far have given us traction for that vision,” he said.

Centennial was created for the 1996 Summer Olympics after organizers were concerned downtown lacked a suitable, large-scale gathering spot. For years after, the park hosted free concerts such as Wednesday Wind Down, “On the Bricks,” and its annual Fourth of July fireworks celebration.

That changed in 2011 after Centennial launched its first ticketed event, “Party in the Park,” said Julia Karrenbauer, the GWCCA’s director of business development. It demonstrated that the park could erect barricades around its perimeter to make a ticketed event work.

Balancing events

Centennial pulled in more than $133,000 from July’s Outkast concert, which reunited the Atlanta duo before audiences of more than 58,000 over three says. The park can hold about 20,000 to 23,000 fans.

The biggest challenge is balancing smaller, but still lucrative events such as 5K walks, and giving the grass time to recover, especially during drought conditions. The state does not plan to add fixed seating.

Should the chamber move forward with a sale, it must find a new home. Any new location would likely be in downtown or Midtown and near a MARTA station, which would be in line with the organization’s push to improve transportation funding in the state and metro area.

The current chamber building holds a prominent corner at Andrew Young International Boulevard and Marietta Street. It has a rooftop events space that’s been a revenue generator for the chamber, through special functions such as business receptions and even weddings. But it also has limited parking for chamber officials and visiting dignitaries.

David Marvin, a prolific developer whose Legacy Property Group has brought hotels, condos and restaurants to the park area, said if the chamber decides to sell its property, whatever replaces the building could improve connectivity between the park, the new College Football Hall of Fame and the convention center.