Hosting the Olympics has become highly competitive sport among economic development officers, providing a unique and valuable opportunity to showcase the host city on a global platform, with free advertising venues.But are the benefits of hosting an Olympic event fact or fiction?
In the case of Atlanta’s 1996 Summer Olympics, pundits had estimated a $5.1 billion short-term positive impact on the economy in addition to the creation of 84,000 jobs in conjunction with the event.The Summer Olympics was also expected to bring tremendous longer-term economic benefits to the State of Georgia:
Creation of World Class athletic, infrastructure and housing facilities
National and global recognition of city and state through extensive media coverage of the games
Community benefits including local volunteerism, job creation, funding for community economic development projects and cultural programs, to name a few.
We have now had sixteen years to assess the impact of the Olympics on Atlanta and most of the evidence fails to support the initial hype.The benefits were much less than the impact studies had estimated.The Olympic investments have not had as large a short-term or long-term impact on Atlanta nor the State of Georgia as was initially advertised. The $5.1 billion revenue impact was never verified and is still being disputed.The job creation numbers were far below initial estimates as well.
The Olympics were definitely a defining moment for Atlanta, but not the cure-all for all of the city’s economic development challenges. The summer Games, however, were a catalyst to move many already planned projects forward in the long run and the city has benefitted from these.The sport stadiums have been less important than the ancillary Olympic-related investments in infrastructure, housing, and street improvements that were completed.Expansions at Hartsfield International Airport (HIA) and the introduction of additional HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes, which were already in the plans, were fast-tracked because of the Olympic Games.Many argue that the elevation of Atlanta’s profile globally was more to do with such improvements to HIA and the road infrastructure rather than the Olympics in isolation.
There were some positive benefits to the Atlanta’s city center as well.The installation of the fiber lines attracted an influx of data centers to the CBD which located in the older office buildings.Additionally, the regional universities, Georgia Tech and Georgia State, benefited from the athletic housing that was built and which was subsequently converted to student housing.These facilities were turned over to the universities after the Olympics.
It has been difficult to gauge the actual legacy of Atlanta’s Olympics but it appears to be a little bit of fact mixed with some fiction.