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News » Building boom, new airport helped Atlanta take off

Building boom, new airport helped Atlanta take off

Building boom, new airport helped Atlanta take off
By 1970, Atlanta had already outgrown the new airport terminal and civic center constructed during the previous decade.

Lesson learned. Following a blueprint that would make hospitality Atlanta's leading industry, the city thought big and built bigger.

Welcome to Hartsfield

In 1971, Atlanta's Municipal Airport went international as Eastern Airlines secured a route to Mexico City. Three years later, only Chicago's O'Hare International Airport handled more flights. Atlanta's old terminal was overwhelmed, and in 1977, work began on what was then the largest construction project in the South.

Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson insisted on minorities receiving more municipal contracts, and from the beginning of his first term (1973) to the end of his second (1981), Jackson increased their participation from 1 percent to 35 percent. The signature accomplishment of his administration, the massive new terminal for the renamed Hartsfield International Airport opened, in Jackson's words, "ahead of schedule and under budget."

The Omni rises

When the Hawks pro Basketball team moved to Atlanta, it first played at Georgia Tech's Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The city's civic center seated only 4,000 people, well below normal NBA capacities.

Real estate developer Tom Cousins, then the Hawks' owner, spent $17 million building his team a more suitable home --- the Omni International. It opened in 1972 with a sports arena that doubled as a concert venue, high-rise hotel, six-screen cinema and, at one point, an indoor ice skating rink. One of the decade's biggest movie stars, Burt Reynolds, opened a nightclub on the second floor.

Sid and Marty Krofft, producers of such trippy live-action children's TV shows as "Land of the Lost" and "H.R. Pufnstuf," were hired to build the world's first indoor amusement park inside the Omni. The World of Sid and Marty Krofft had a roller coaster, carousel and a human pinball machine. It remains one of Atlanta's more spectacular failures, shuttering after six months. Downtown safety concerns were blamed for the park's poor attendance.

The Omni International is now CNN's world headquarters. The Hawks play in Philips Arena, built on the site of Cousins' Omni hoops venue. The word "Omni" survives in the name of the hotel within the CNN Center.

Destination city

The state-funded Georgia World Congress Center opened in 1976 across the street from the Omni. The GWCC boasted the world's largest exhibition hall, with 352,000 square feet of display area. It helped Atlanta muscle into a business long dominated by New York and Chicago. Many downtown projects since then have been developed with an eye to the tourist --- from the World of Coke to the Georgia Aquarium.

Portman's contribution

More than anyone else, developer-architect John Portman was responsible for the Atlanta aesthetic, particularly its more distinctive flourishes. His downtown credits include the Hyatt Regency, Marriott Marquis, Peachtree Center and SunTrust Plaza.

In 1976, he completed one of his more ambitious projects downtown on the site of the old Henry Grady Hotel. Keeping with the decade's bigger-is-better theme, the Westin Peachtree Plaza opened as the world's tallest hotel and, at the time, Atlanta's tallest building. The 73-story tower, with its cylindrical shape and reflective glass, remains the city's most recognizable skyscraper.

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: January 1, 2009


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