Centennial Olympic Park is a 21 acre (85,000 m²) public park located in downtown Atlanta, Georgia that is owned and operated by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority. The park was built by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) as part of the infrastructure improvements for the Centennial 1996 Summer Olympics. ACOG's chief executive, Billy Payne, conceived it as both a central gathering location for visitors and spectators during the Olympics and as a lasting legacy for the city.
The park is surrounded by many major Atlanta Landmarks; the Georgia World Congress Center, Georgia Dome, Philips Arena and the CNN Center are all on the west side of the park and the Georgia Aquarium and the new World of Coke(to open in 2007) on the North side of the park. It is bounded by Marietta Street to the west, Baker Street to the north and Centennial Olympic Park Drive to the east and south. Andrew Young International Boulevard, named for the former Atlanta mayor and U.N. ambassador, runs through the southern portion of the park. The park property was previously a variety of vacant lots and abandoned, run-down and industrial buildings.
A key feature of the park are the "world famous" Fountain of Rings interactive fountain which features computer-controlled lights and jets of water synchronized with music played from speakers in light towers surrounding the fountain. The fountain forms a splash pad that was designed for children to frolic in, as well as for concert goers and joggers to cool off in on hot Atlanta summer days. The waterplay area consists of 251 jets that shoot 12 to 35 feet (4 to 10 m) in the air, and also creates a beautiful water sculpture that's essentially the front yard of the nearby museum. A nearby hotel with rooms facing the fountain recommends businessmen/women try splashing through the fountain. An important formal architectural landmark that is also a fun and playful space, the computer controlled fountain concept has since been replicated in other urban designs such as Dundas Square in Toronto and in commercial uses such as the Bellagio Fountains at the Bellagio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The fountain area is surrounded by flags representing the host countries of each Summer Olympics preceding the 1996 games and columns reminiscent of ancient Greece. There are several pieces of sculpture scattered through the park including a statue of Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympic movement. A small amphitheatre is located at the southern end of the park.
During the Olympics, the park contained sponsor exhibits, hosted entertainment and medal presentations, and was a hotbed for pin trading. The celebrations in the park were marred by the July 27th bombing which killed two people and injured over one hundred others. Security at the park and at all sporting venues was subsequently raised to include bag searches and metal detectors at all entrances. All mentions of the bombing have since been erased. The bombing site is adjacent to the Park's "Centennial Tree."
Closed shortly after the Olympics for renovations (including installation of grass) until spring 1998, Centennial Olympic Park now plays host to thousands of visitors a year. It also hosts several events including a summer popular music concert series (On the Bricks) as well as an annual Independence Day concert and fireworks display. Portions of the park are available for rental for private events.
The park was paid for in part by the donations of thousands of individuals who "bought" bricks engraved with the short message of their choice and laid as pavers throughout the park. The contribution for each brick was US$35. The message was allowed 15 characters on each of two lines. The finished bricks were laid in alternating light (tan) and dark (brick red) groups comprising a large portion of the 800,000 bricks used in the park's construction. Many contributors ordered replica bricks to keep for themselves as souvenirs.
The park has become a catalyst for new development in Atlanta's downtown. The new World of Coca-Cola museum is being built next to the Georgia Aquarium just north of the park and Imagine It! The Children’s Museum of Atlanta opened on March 1, 2004 on a corner northeast of the park. Other significant attractions or developments surrounding the park include The Georgia World Congress Center, the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, The Atlanta Apparel Mart, the Omni Hotel, and The Tabernacle (formerly a House of Blues location during the games), and the CNN Center, CNN's world headquarters. The Georgia Dome and Philips Arena are just a block away.