Atlanta Olympic Committee closes its doors
ATLANTA (AP) _ Almost a year after the Olympic flame was extinguished, Atlanta’s maligned organizing committee went out of business Monday with a break-even budget and the unshakeable belief that the legacy of the games won’t be its myriad problems.
The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games held its final board meeting in a downtown building which overlooks Centennial Olympic Park, the centerpiece of the 17-day event which brought nearly 11,000 athletes to the city.
The ACOG board closed the books on a $1.7 billion budget _ raised entirely from private sources _ that doled out more than $541 million for construction of venues and $315 million on employee salaries.
All that’s left is about $39 million to cover remaining construction projects and several pending lawsuits. Once those debts are paid, any remaining money will go to the United States Olympic Committee.
Billy Payne, ACOG’s president and chief executive officer, completed a decade-long odyssey which began with his seemingly ludicrous idea to bring the Olympics to the American South.
``We want to remember how wonderful it was to host these games,″ he said. ``We want to say to all the people responsible for giving us these games how truly grateful we are for the experience of a lifetime.″
Payne shrugged off those who continue to criticize Atlanta for transportation breakdowns, technical problems, tacky street vendors and a bombing in Centennial Park that killed one person and injured more than 100.
``Our humanity will be the legacy of these games,″ he said. ``While there’s talk about ugly vending and one-tenth of one percent of the buses that didn’t arrive on time, I don’t think history will remember that. I wish we could have been perfect in every respect, but it doesn’t diminish the joy that millions felt.″
Payne even cracked a joke about Atlanta’s problems when a reporter, complaining about his recorder, said ``the technology isn’t working.″
``Very funny,″ Payne said. ``I believe you said that a year ago.″
He and other top officials, including chief financial officer A.D. Frazier and co-chairman of the board Bob Holder, exchanged hugs and signed each other’s name cards after a news conference.
ACOG still has a staff of 25 workers, which will be reduced to 11 by the end of July. Five employees are to remain through the end of the year to handle the routine work associated with dissolving the organization.
The organization’s once-bustling top-floor offices are eerily vacant, with makeshift signs leading the way to the ``Closing Day Task Force.″ The signs, which formerly said ``Opening Day Task Force,″ had been changed with a magic marker.
ACOG plans several events to mark the July 19 anniversary of the opening ceremony, including the dedication of the Olympic cauldron at its new location, the premiere of Bud Greenspan’s film on the Atlanta games and the opening of an exhibit displaying Olympic memorabilia.
Also, the USOC announced a $1 million grant to launch an Olympic youth development program in the city. ``Hopefully, this will continue to inspire Atlanta’s youth to remember these games,″ said John Krimsky, the USOC’s deputy secretary general.
ACOG’s reserve fund includes some $17.8 million for construction costs, most of which will be used to complete the demolition of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Another $21.3 million will be put aside for contingencies and liabilities, such as unresolved lawsuits over cost overruns and design flaws at the main Olympic stadium.
There were no bonuses for ACOG’s top employees.
Payne said the Olympics have forever changed Atlanta’s image, though the games didn’t leave much of a physical legacy outside of the athletic venues.
Most of the banners which adorned downtown streets were auctioned off to help raise funds, and only a third of Centennial Park’s 21 acres have reopened to the public. The rest _ little more than a pile of red dirt now _ isn’t scheduled for completion until the fall.
Payne said those searching for obvious reminders of the Atlanta Olympics are missing their true strength. He said he will most remember ``having my own faith in humanity somewhat restored.″
``If you put a common denominator in front of people who are inherently different, it seems to erode the walls of divisiveness,″ Payne said. ``I felt that we touched that special feeling. I’m the luckiest guy in this community over the last 10 years, I’m sure of that.″
As for Sydney, which will be host to the Olympics in 2000, Payne had this advice:
``Do it in your own way that best represents your city and your country. Do it that way and stick to your guns.″
``Did Atlanta follow that advice?″ Payne was asked.
``Absolutely,″ he replied.