The Super Bowl is finally over but another side of Atlanta hid in plain sight

By King Williams

The Super Bowl is over…finally.

Most of the remnants of the ‘Big Game’ are gone from downtown but many of the problems that were here before kickoff still remain.

Local fan favorite venue and national concession model, Mercedes-Benz Stadium had the unfortunate duty of playing host to the lowest-scoring Super Bowl of all time. But before the confetti dropped, Atlanta’s public face covered up several of the city’s weak spots – from transportation to neighborhood revitalization to homelessness – all areas we need to improve.

Historically, the new Home Depot Backyard tailgating space next to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium once was home to Lightning, a black neighborhood that was destroyed to create the Georgia Dome. That Dome was demolished to make room for the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which was built on the site of two historic black churches – Mount Vernon Baptist Church and Friendship Baptist Church.

The Home Depot Backyard outside of Mercedes-Benz Stadium
photo by Kelly Jordan

Across from the Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the former Georgia Dome are the neighborhoods of Vine City and English Avenue. Over the past 30 years, those neighborhoods have declined with a loss of population. And the remaining residents have been let down numerous time with hollow promises and false hopes.

Much to the dismay of many in the neighborhoods, the city invested between $23 million to 27 million dollar pedestrian bridge over Northside Drive to connect Vine City with the sports and convention complex. Ironically that bridge was closed to the general public during the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl passengers awaiting MARTA train
photo provided by MARTA

While MARTA had record ridership during Super Bowl week, the Atlanta Streetcar was shut down on the Saturday before the game – giving preference to cars and buses using downtown’s streets. Once again, it showed that Atlanta hasn’t yet figured out how to have a seamless transit system.

Another weak spot has been in how we address our homeless population. In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, there was charges that Atlanta was rounding up homeless residents and placing them in temporary shelters. There also is growing skepticism over the current solutions to homelessness and growing debates on the actual homeless count in Atlanta.

This follows the closure of one of the city’s largest shelters better known as “Peachtree-Pine” in 2017, which had been operated by the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless. This prime downtown Atlanta real estate on Peachtree Street has since been sold to Emory University for $6.2 million – leaving a void of shelters in that part in that area.

Lastly, maybe it was coincidence, but three weeks before the “Big Game,” a demolition permit was granted to tear down a building across from Morehouse College. The building displayed two public art murals – one of Muhammad Ali as King T’Challa from the “Black Panther” movie and the other of Colin Kaepernick in a Falcons uniform. That mural was torn down on the first day of Black History Month and coincidentally two days before the Super Bowl.

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Since the destruction of that mural, a GoFundMe page has emerged paint Kaepernick murals across Atlanta – one that has is raising money to locate those murals to eight locations.

By contrast, the Atlanta Super Bowl Host Committee did launch the universally-loved “Off the Wall” public art project featuring 30 Civil Rights-related murals throughout the city. It would be great if we could continue to support great public art – even when a Super Bowl isn’t coming to town.

King Williams is a multimedia documentary film director and author based in Atlanta, Georgia. He is an associate producer on the upcoming Sara Burns (daughter of documentarian Ken Burns)/Dave McMahon’s Spring 2019 documentary – ‘East Lake’ – on the former East Lake Meadows housing project. King’s documentary “The Atlanta Way: A Documentary on Gentrification” will be released this January. His podcast on gentrification – “The Neighborhood Watch” – with Dr. Renee Skeete is available on iTunes and SoundCloud. And his book ‘The Gentrification Handbook’ will released in the summer of 2019. King can be reached at [email protected] or @iamkingwilliams on Instagram and Twitter. His google voice number is: 470-310-1795.

5 replies
  1. Alma says:

    All the people would not be Homeless if the wasn’t put out of their homes even AHA have gotten corrupted their apartments which is being builder on Student movement use to be Fair Street will be going for 60% AMI theirs no place for Low Income when the City is using Housing money for Projects streets still have potholes. I mean really the hold City is corrupted lies about helping people Invest Atlanta and Westside Future Fund have not did nothing for the people. They are helping if you move out the City they will pay your rent for3 months they are paying people to move but could not come up with an ideal to help them stay in their homes the Park is not for us. City Hall is even more corrupted then before. We just want JusticesReport

    Reply
  2. George Chidi says:

    The suggestion that “In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, there was charges that Atlanta was rounding up homeless residents and placing them in temporary shelters,” spoken in passive voice to hide the source of those charges, is notable for its lack of actual evidence. No one was forced to go to a temporary shelter. No one was rounded up. I will say this plainly, because I keenly watched what was actually happening, checking in regularly with service providers, with social services agencies and with actual homeless people.

    It didn’t happen. Those who say it did this time are lying.

    It’s happened before, of course. The Olympics left a permanent stain on the city’s honor in this regard. It is completely inconceivable that, knowing the legacy of the Olympics and homelessness, there wouldn’t be active measures taken by people working on homelessness here to prevent it? The agencies and advocates who actually work to reduce homelessness in Atlanta had a firewatch going for weeks, looking for signs of systematic displacement, of bus tickets to Birmingham, of jails filled. We found little to suggest the city wanted to hide homeless people this time.

    It’s a victory, and I will not have you rob Atlanta of that victory because you’re too cynical to presume otherwise and too lazy to ascertain the actual truth of your charge.

    “There also is growing skepticism over the current solutions to homelessness and growing debates on the actual homeless count in Atlanta.” More passive voice. Are you skeptical? OK. Say so. Are other people skeptical. I can imagine. Who? Names carry credibility. The absence of names — of actual skeptics — speaks to the nebulous, conspiratorial cowardice of this view.Report

    Reply
  3. cc423 says:

    Every word of this is true. And also… as a Downtown resident, I can tell you first hand that the City could care less about people living down here. This City is designed and operates for the complete benefit of tourists, conventioneers, Mart attendees and sports fans. Until Atlanta figures out that it is not a theme park, expect the City to continue building useless bridges.Report

    Reply

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