Atlanta’s Sports Renaissance
This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Where Atlanta.
The last time Atlanta had this much of a spotlight on sports was arguably during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. Imagine the comparison: the 1996 Games were a landmark centennial anniversary for the modern Olympics and the first time the Southern U.S. played host. Furthermore, Atlanta was yet a small city with little national clout outside of the game-changing music filling local airwaves and piquing interest around the world.
Today, after more than two decades, Atlanta’s pride in hosting the Olympics is ever-present—you can visit living landmarks like Centennial Olympic Park, view the original cauldron (and, oddly, a replica cauldron), and explore the impressive Centennial Olympic Games Collection at the Atlanta History Center.
These comments and “accolades” would maim any town’s ego—and sure, they always sting—but Atlanta is no ordinary city, and it continues doing what it does best: carrying on.
A little history lesson is in order when talking about Atlanta’s unshakable constitution. The city’s uphill battle began only 27 years after it was founded, born as the terminating point of four railroad lines. During the ill-fated summer of 1864—just a year before the end of the Civil War—General William Tecumseh Sherman was bent on making an example of Atlanta as he embarked on his fiery Atlanta Campaign. Sherman and his Union soldiers blazed through the young city, burning to the ground every structure in their path. For the first time and certainly not the last, Atlanta was left to dust off the ashes of destruction.
And so it was. Atlanta was soon a nucleus for intellectuals, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs and inventors (such as pharmacist John Pemberton, who formulated a tonic now known as Coca-Cola). By the 1950s, less than 100 years after the abolition of slavery, Auburn Avenue was recognized as the wealthiest African-American street in the nation.
Blind determination and unflinching perseverance are two of the city’s strongest traits to this day. And so, we find ourselves in a new age of Atlanta sports, an unquestionable renaissance brought on by a well-timed barrage of new developments and renewed hope.
The new stadium, now on track to host its first game in July, is a breathtaking example of the kind of innovation that results when technology, architecture and design work in tandem. The Mercedes-Benz Stadium, as it’s formally known, offers a roll-call of first-of-its-kind features—including a space-age retractable roof and “The largest LED video display in all of sports”—that have the nation’s sports fans clamoring for Game Day. As it turns out, word of the new Falcons stadium was just the first domino to fall.
A mere eight months after news of Blank’s plans surfaced, the Atlanta Braves announced their own multimillion-dollar plans to end their tenure at Turner Field.
“This region [is] on the move. It’s increasingly diverse. There are Fortune 100 companies here. There’s a burgeoning tech community. There’s sophistication and cool places within our footprint,” said Adam Zimmerman, VP of Marketing for the Atlanta Braves, who says the team’s decision to build its own home base was a logical next step for both the franchise and its ever-growing hometown.
As for the new development’s amenities, it’s hard to know where to begin. Surrounding the SunTrust Park, which in itself offers a slew of activities, dining options and fan experiences, The Battery creates an all-in-one experience that allows fans to turn every game into a day-long outing.
Sprawling across nearly 90 acres, The Battery’s dining options are a veritable checklist of Atlanta’s most celebrated chefs, including Hugh Acheson’s First & Third Hot Dog and Sausage Shack, Linton Hopkins’ C. Ellet’s steakhouse, Ford Fry’s El Felix, Antico Pizza Napoletana and various others. Mark Wahlberg and his family are also bringing their burger chain, Wahlburgers, to the development.
In addition to the myriad food options, The Battery is home to the revived, 53,000-square-foot Roxy Theatre, which is run by Live Nation and will feature a rotating marquee of about 40 musical and comedy acts each year, typically scheduled for non-game days. Punch Bowl Social has also made its mark by opening its first location in Georgia at The Battery. The two-story entertainment powerhouse features eight bowling lanes, a bocce court, three karaoke rooms, a 360-degree bar, and—the Holy Grail for Atlantans—a 2,200-square-foot rooftop patio.
With these kinds of large-scale events flocking to the city and bringing with them millions of dollars of economic growth, Atlanta’s visionary sports teams have proven they’re always ready to “rise up” and win on their own terms.