Taxpayers’ Olympic bill: $1 billion

Taxpayers’ Olympic bill: $1 billionAs the Olympic torch arrives in Sydney, a Georgia Tech professor has totaled the taxpayers’ tab for Atlanta’s 1996 party — and it ain’t pretty. Remember Billy Payne’s vow that tax money wouldn’t be needed for the games? Well, he was off by more than $1 billion, according to a forthcoming book by planning professor Larry Keating. Keating argues in Atlanta: Race, Class and Urban Expansion that the city used local and federal funds to make “cosmetic enhancements” for the games, but put off solving its sewer woes and other problems. The biggest chunk of change — some $800 million — was spent on transportation projects, mainly those intended to solve the region’s traffic woes.

A leading Olympic organizer casts doubt on Keating’s claims. Charlie Battle, a member of the Atlanta Olympics’ bid committee, notes that highway improvements, streetscaping and Olympic Village housing translated into long-term benefits for the community and shouldn’t simply be measured as “Olympic” spending. Besides, Battle argues, the Games showered the city with all kinds of windfalls, ranging from Centennial Olympic Park to international publicity and more tax revenues.

“We probably wouldn’t even have the Atlanta Braves if it weren’t for the Olympics’ [role in creating Turner Field],” Battle says.

Keating agrees that the Olympics left worthwhile legacies but says some projects often viewed as benefits had their downsides. Hundreds of people, for example, lost their homes when low-income housing near the park was converted into multi-income housing. Atlanta: Race, Class and Urban Expansion will be published by Temple University Press in January.

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