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Atlanta 1996 / 1 DAY TO THE GAMES

Olympic Park

July 18, 1996|BILL DWYRE

Centennial Olympic Park was to be Billy Payne's dream. Or, if you listen to the grumbles of some of the members of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG), it was Billy's Folly.

Payne, the president, CEO and head dreamer for the 1996 Olympic effort, saw a chance to turn an empty space in downtown Atlanta into a park for those visiting the Games.

It was to be a place where the TV cameras went for those warm-and-fuzzy stories about Joe and Sarah and the kids from Macon, Ga., who were posing for a picture with Izzy, the mascot of the Games.

The grumbling from ACOG people was led by those in charge of transportation, no small problem here with the bulk of the competition venues within a small area called the Olympic ring.

Billy's Park was going to be, originally, the central point for busing people around.

But Payne said no, and though the cynics around Atlanta speculated that the park would become a haven for winos and the homeless after the Games, the plans went forward.

Centennial Olympic Park is up and running quite well. The motto on its logo for sponsor AT&T is "Imagine a World Without Limits." It certainly is not a world without corporate sponsors.

You have a Coca-Cola pin trading center, a Swatch Pavilion, a Bud World, a Giant AT&T Center and much, much more.

There is a Super Store where a combination Dream Team T-Shirt/Jersey with Hakeem Olajuwon's name on it goes for $80. Or, if you are a follower of the Atlanta Olympic mascot, you can get a two-inch plastic collectible of Izzy playing basketball or shooting arrows or cycling for $3 each. Get Izzy in all sports for $90. What a deal.

Speaking of deals, one of the highlights Wednesday seemed to be Olympic bricks. One of the much-discussed Olympic fund-raising projects here has been the sale of commemorative bricks. For $35, you get your name on a brick and it goes on a walkway in the park around a fountain that every few minutes squirts water five or six feet high in the shape of--what else?--the Olympic rings.

To find one's Olympic brick, or to buy one--hurry, because sales close the day the Games end. You stand in line for about half an hour.

"It'll be 50 bucks by the time you get through," said Russell Hughes of Carrollton, Ga., about 50 miles west of here. Hughes, working at the Olympic Brick Desk, said he was one of 833 volunteers brought here by Wachovia Bank. "The bricks are only $35, but they get you for another $10 for a certificate and some other stuff," he said.

Hughes reported 325,000 bricks had been sold, and they were willing to sell another 300,000. That meant that, at $35 a brick, they had already raised $11,375,000, with an additional $10,500,000 coming with a sellout.

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