By Maria Saporta
One of Atlanta’s favorite sons – Ted Turner – got 11 blocks of Spring Street named after him at an official unveiling ceremony on July 21.
As someone who has admired Ted Turner for decades, I believe that we as a city can and should do so much more to honor our hometown hero.
I am already on record for saying that I believe Turner deserves a Nobel Peace Prize – something I wrote in a column two years ago. But that honor obviously is not something that we can bestow.
So what can we as a city – collectively or individually – do to properly honor Turner and uplift Atlanta at the same time?
Let’s start with CNN. Slowly but surely, CNN is becoming less and less of a presence in Atlanta as Time Warner has been shifting its top people and decision makers to New York City.
Word has it that Time Warner would be willing to sell CNN. How wonderful would it be if a business and/or communications leader in Atlanta could buy the network and recreate Ted Turner’s original vision for CNN.
Turner always saw having CNN based in Atlanta as a competitive advantage – the costs were lower and the network could offer a different perspective on the news than outlets based in New York or Washington, D.C.
Turner also viewed CNN as a way to build bridges of communication throughout the world. Atlanta, home of the world’s busiest airport and a city with a history of promoting civil and human rights, was a perfect home base for Turner’s multi-faceted efforts to make the world a better place.
If we could revive CNN by honoring Turner’s original vision for a serious news network out of Atlanta, what a wonderful legacy that would be.
But that’s not the only way to honor Turner.
Turner helped revive the heart of downtown when he moved CNN to what was then the Omni office complex. Turner also was responsible for keeping the Atlanta Hawks downtown (when his own people were pushing a suburban location) by pushing for the redevelopment of the Omni Coliseum into Philips Arena.
Another meaningful way to honor Turner would be to make sure to keep the Atlanta Hawks in downtown Atlanta – ideally in a rejuvenated Philips Arena. Maybe there could be a way to rename the whole area around the arena – Turner Plaza. I believe that belongs to the Atlanta-Fulton Recreation Authority, so it could be a fairly easy change to make.
Downtown resident Kyle Kessler, who opposed changing 11 blocks of Spring Street into Ted Turner Drive, shared several ways we could honor “Captain Courageous” in more meaningful ways.
“Ted Turner’s legacy is one of great ambition so it would seem a more fitting tribute to find a likewise ambitious way to recognize his achievements and ensure that future generations can’t forget his impact on Atlanta,” Kessler wrote me in an email.
With the plans for a major renovation of Centennial Olympic Park – situated across the street from CNN Center, Kessler and his neighbors already have had conversations with park owners – the Georgia World Congress Center Authority about having some way to honor Turner within the refreshed COP.
Kessler also liked the idea of having a museum or attraction that would highlight Turner’s life and endeavors – from America’s Cup, the Atlanta Braves, TBS, CNN, the United Nations, World Championship Wrestling, the MGM archive, bison, Captain Planet and the Good Will Games among other accomplishments.
One of the sad developments is that another Olympic legacy, Turner Field, might be demolished or substantively changed once the Atlanta Braves leave by the end of 2016 and the land is sold.
Maybe there would be a way to honor Turner as part of the new development at Turner Field – along with keeping the existing honors for homerun legend Hank Aaron – at the spot where the baseball player made history. The Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority, which now owns the land, could make that part of a sale.
Kessler also said another way to honor Turner would be as part of the current plans to redesign the 10th Street bridge – “one that ties together the original TBS studios with the larger Turner headquarters west of the Connector.”
If the city were determined to honor Turner with his own street name, Kessler said he has wondered why Techwood Drive in front of Turner Entertainment headquarters wasn’t chosen for renaming.
“Except for the section that remains with that name on the Georgia Tech campus, the City has intentionally tried to remove associations with the former public housing complex,” Kessler said. “Given its disconnection from the rest of Techwood due to the Tech basketball complex and the old O’Keefe school, it would seem like the stretch that’s in front of TBS would be a great fit. It makes sense for TBS to have a Ted Turner Drive address.”
A much more ambitious idea would be to create a new park by capping part of the Downtown Connector.
Creating a new green space on top of the highway that cut that part of the city in half would be a way to appeal to Ted Turner’s environmental dedication. Although that would cost millions of dollars, Kessler rhetorically asked: wouldn’t that be a more fitting way to honor Turner than with “some cheap metal signs that Public Works can crank out and mount in a matter of days?”
Kessler, who also is a dedicated preservationist, pointed out that none of the buildings that Ted Turner made famous have any level of historic protection. That includes CNN Center, Turner Field, the studios on Williams Street, Turner’s facilities on Techwood Drive and the Bona Allen building, where he currently houses his operations in Atlanta.
“Demolition permits could be filed for each of them tomorrow and the public would have basically no recourse to make sure they stay standing,” Kessler said. “We could argue about their architectural merits, but there is no question that they are associated with the important historical figure of Ted Turner. Just like we want to maintain sites associated with Atlanta’s civil rights history based upon the important events that took place there, how can we not go ahead and say that what Ted and his team have done at these other sites isn’t worthy of preservation?”
One of Turner’s long-time associates – Bob Hope – offered another idea. What if Atlanta and Centennial Olympic Park were to transform the area into a magical Tivoli Gardens style area? Hope envisioned blanketing the area with twinkling white lights from the park to Philips Arena, and it would be even better if they were to be lit with solar power – another one of Turner’s causes.
In summary, Ted Turner has had such an impact on Atlanta, the country and the world. Let us honor him accordingly.