ATLANTA -- There is a sense of giddiness on the 34th floor of the stone-and-glass One Atlantic Center on West Peachtree Street these days. Balloons, roses and telegrams come in by the dozens. Extra secretaries have been called in to answer the phones. Everyone wanders around in a happy, jet-lagged daze, shaking their heads and smiling the mischievous smile of unanticipated -- yet totally warranted -- victory.
The people who convinced the International Olympic Committee to award the 1996 Summer Olympics to Atlanta occupy the 34th floor. They have returned from Tokyo, the site of this past week's decision, to celebrate and enjoy the spoils of a triumph nearly three years in the making. They spent $7.3 million over that span to win the Games. In the next six years, they will spend $1.4 billion to get ready to put them on.
But right now, there is time, a little time, to sit back, glance out the big windows and dream about what their city will look like in 1996. Stadiums can be built later.
"There seems to have been created a great sense of urgency about how fast we need to make decisions, about how we should feel intimidated by the job ahead," said Billy Payne, the 42-year-old president of the Atlanta Organizing Committee, soon to become the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG).
"We don't feel that at all. What we have achieved is of such significance that we need to take a little time to sit back and enjoy it. But we have all the talent and the time we need."
The dozen or so decision-makers in Atlanta aren't concerned, but, around the nation, there is almost a sense of shock about what Atlanta has done -- and what it must now do. Atlantans are best described as perplexed by the whole situation. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is publishing "The Answer Book" in its Sunday editions to help readers figure out what is going to happen in the next six years.
From afar, Atlanta's victory is a pleasant curiosity. For starters, it's the first Summer Olympics to be held east of the Mississippi in the United States. And it's not in New York or Chicago, but a town many don't know much about. The mental pictures of Atlanta are varied: "Gone with the Wind," Jimmy Carter, Martin Luther King Jr., Andrew Young, a high crime rate, red clay.
"The world is probably saying, 'My goodness, what is there about Atlanta that we don't know that wins out over the Melbournes, the Torontos and the Athenses?' " Payne said in an interview Friday. "The greatest part of that inquiry is the answer, and that is we have the opportunity, with a totally clean slate, to introduce to them what I think will be proclaimed after 1996 as one of the great cities of the world.
"We will immediately move into the stature of the L.A.'s, Chicagos, New Yorks. I think that's what the Olympics is going to do.
"I am convinced that as people around the world see Atlanta in massive doses -- and they will -- they're going to say: 'My goodness, I didn't know any place like that existed in the United States. Look at all those trees. Look at all those people. What are they smiling for?' "
At this stage of Olympic planning, with stadiums on the drawing board and ideas jumbled in AOC minds, it's still possible to get an idea of what kind of Olympics Atlanta will put on.
Remember Los Angeles in 1984?
"These will be such a different Olympic Games than the L.A. Games," said U.S. Olympic Committee Executive Director Harvey Schiller. "They will be as different as L.A. and Atlanta. I expect Atlanta to be very down-to-earth."
When they lobbied IOC members, AOC members brought a map of the United States to show how far Atlanta is from Los Angeles, "farther than Moscow is from Barcelona," said Ginger Watkins, AOC executive vice president, referring to the sites of the 1980 and 1992 Summer Olympics. It's no coincidence 12 years separates Los Angeles from Atlanta too.
"Atlanta was not known," said Watkins, who had been involved in volunteer work in the city until she got pulled into this. "It was only 'Gone with the Wind.' Some confused us with the city that gambled, Atlantic City."
While Los Angeles organizers drew some of their glitzier ideas from Hollywood, Atlanta expects to steep its Games celebrations (like the opening and closing ceremonies) in Olympic history.
"They probably would not be show biz," Payne said.
Payne already is calling them "The Centennial Games," the 100th anniversary of the rebirth of the Olympic Games in Athens. The Greek city lost out to Atlanta on the fifth ballot last Tuesday, but it will be prominent in Atlanta's Games, Payne said. Thought even is being given to redesigning Atlanta's Olympic logo -- five A's, representing the five Olympic rings, arranged in a circle -- to incorporate the idea of the 100-year anniversary of the Games.
Los Angeles was grand. Atlanta will be homey. The L.A. Games stretched over hundreds of miles in Southern California. Atlanta's Games will be compact and reachable on MARTA, the rapid transit system. Nine venues for 20 sports will be located within a three-mile radius of downtown Atlanta called the "Olympic Ring."
The L.A. Games were personified by Peter Ueberroth, the corporate genius who made the Olympics a desirable property after the financial debacle of Montreal in 1976. The Atlanta Games belong to Payne, the man who simply was looking for another project after helping his church build a new sanctuary. He had a dream that his next effort would be the Olympics, and began knocking on doors to find other believers.
"I believe in the power of people," said Payne, a former University of Georgia football all-American. "People collectively can do anything."
Ueberroth came on board after Los Angeles won the Games (won may be the wrong word; there were no other competitors), while Payne was here from the start.
"We are very different, from what I understand of him. I have never met him, but I admire him very much. I've got a tape of one of his speeches right here," Payne said, reaching behind his desk to hold up a cassette.
"He is eminently more qualified as a manager and as an organizer than I am," continued Payne, a real estate attorney who left his job and hasn't had a paycheck in three years. "I don't know if I'm better than him at anything. But I know what people collectively can do. I have never looked at this principally as a business. I'm not sure he did, either, although that's an image of those Games. We may have identical motivations, I don't know. But I do know I represent the spirit of this community."
Soon, the spirit will have to be moved to begin what likely will be the greatest civic sports building spree in U.S. history. Los Angeles needed just a velodrome (cycling stadium) and swimming pool. Atlanta, as organized and sturdy as any Olympic city ever has been, still must build quite a bit more.
Almost $500 million will be spent constructing (or upgrading) all sorts of facilities: an 85,000-seat Olympic Stadium ($145 million), a velodrome ($14 million), a swimming and diving facility ($22 million) and an Olympic village ($60 million), among others. The 72,000-seat Georgia Dome ($220 million), which will host the 1994 Super Bowl and will become the home of the NFL Falcons, is under construction and isn't part of the $500 million price tag. It will be used for basketball and gymnastics at the Olympics.
Seven sports, including cycling, will take place at Stone Mountain, 15 miles east of downtown, where much remains to be done. The only faraway events will be yachting in the ocean off Savannah and whitewater canoeing in Tennessee's Ocoee River.
It's natural to wonder what will become of all these facilities after Aug. 4, 1996, the date the Olympics end (they start July 20).
The Olympic Village is being built on the campus of Georgia Tech and will become dormitories for students from that school as well as four historically black colleges in the area -- Morehouse, Morris Brown, Spellman and Clark.
The natatorium will be used by Georgia Tech's swimming team and also will be open to children and adults in the community. With a state-of-the-art facility like this, it's likely Atlanta will begin producing many more national-caliber swimmers.
Atlanta's stadium designers learned their lesson from Montreal, which was left with a cavernous baseball facility once the 1976 Olympics were over.
Who will pay for all this? The state is building the Dome and picking up the tab on some other expansions, but the bulk of the new construction will be paid for privately, just as in Los Angeles.
"We believe that TV revenues, sponsorship licensing and merchandising and ticket sales will pay for the Atlanta Olympic Games," Payne said.
A surplus of more than $200 million is expected when the books are balanced in the fall of 1996. This is the flip side of all the spending. Former Mayor Andrew Young, AOC chairman, has said all along that some of the extra money will go back into the community, and not into sports. He expects help for the homeless, help for education and help for other services.
It is estimated about $3.5 billion will be pumped into the local economy in the next six years. Organizers figure 84,000 new jobs will be created. Another 70,000 volunteers will be needed.
Atlanta officials also expect to share their wealth with other nations, a promise that won them praise from IOC voters.
One of the biggest money-makers for the Atlanta games will be television. With the Olympics in the desirable eastern time zone, rights fees from a U.S. network could be as high as $600 million, experts say, $199 million more than NBC paid for Barcelona in 1992. When this kind of money is mentioned to AOC members, they just wink and smile.
But it's likely the Games will not be the first to be televised exclusively on cable TV. Because Atlanta is the home of Ted Turner's broadcasting empire, it's a thought. But Payne politely shook his head at the idea, saying the Games should be available to all on network TV, with an increasing cable presence.
It's all so new, there might be more unknowns than knowns about the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. But one thing is certain: the Games will be the grandest peacetime event this side of the United States has ever known. And it all started as a crazy idea just three years ago.
A sign drapped across the AOC doorway said it all: "Kudos AOC -- Thanks Billy! Good Idea."