The Super Bowl comes to Atlanta Feb. 3, bringing a 10-day football festival that is stoking local excitement about hospitality-industry money, and boosting policing in Buckhead and Brookhaven, while local departments are also sending officers to help secure the Mercedes-Benz Stadium area.
Buckhead is expected to be a center of activity, as many attendees of the NFL championship game are staying in local hotels, and the neighborhood is hosting many public and private parties. One of the two competing teams — the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots — will stay at a Buckhead hotel, according to host committee logistics chief Amy Patterson.
Farther north on Ga. 400, Perimeter Center is likely to be busy as well, though officials said hotels were not sold out there for the Super Bowl.
“Buckhead businesses are excited to have the Super Bowl come to Atlanta and very enthusiastic about the economic benefits our area is expecting,” said Chris Godfrey, the president of the Buckhead Business Association, in an email. “Buckhead leads Atlanta in hospitality, fine dining and nightlife – so we expect a very busy month ahead. Hotels have been booked for many months and at premium rates! With Buckhead’s accessibility to MARTA, we are thrilled about our connectedness for the event.”
The BBA was keeping an eye on traffic and other effects as well, including by hosting a recent breakfast speech from Patterson.
Sam Massell, the former Atlanta mayor and current president of the Buckhead Coalition, said he is also a member of an advisory board for the Super Bowl. In a written statement, he praised planners for “proactive rather than reactive problems management.”
“Having also been on the Olympic Committee for the 1996 games in Atlanta, and helped coordinate control of some community interests when the National Democratic Convention was held here in 1988, I’ve understood the importance of advance planning for crowds,” Massell said. “There’s no end to the amount of effort that can be exercised, and there’s always the potential for missed issues, even alongside of ‘overplanning.’ Still, it’s been my experience that our City Hall and its police department have been ready and able to confront the day-to-day activities.”
Massell said that the advice to most residents is to “be prepared to be proud of your city and enjoy the excitement, and hopefully profit from the commercial impact.”
In Buckhead and the neighboring city of Brookhaven, officials plan to cover the main club and hotel districts with more police officers than usual as security for game-related events. Buckhead’s Lenox Square mall will house a police command center, said Robin Suggs, who manages the mall for Simon Properties, at a recent meeting of the Buckhead Community Improvement Districts.
Interim Deputy Chief Brandon Gurley of the Brookhaven Police Department said his force is “preparing to have additional officers on hand during the peak times to increase our police presence around our hotels and entertainment venues.”
The last time Atlanta hosted a Super Bowl, in 2000, Buckhead became the scene of a notorious crime that crystalized crime concerns and helped to spark redevelopment of Buckhead Village’s old nightclub district. Ray Lewis, a star NFL player, and two other men were charged in a double-murder by stabbing after a fight outside a West Paces Ferry nightclub. Lewis’s murder charges were dropped and the other men were acquitted. Meanwhile, the nightclub zone was remade into what is now the Shops at Buckhead Atlanta high-end shopping center and related mixed-use development. The Shops are among the local sites hosting Super Bowl events, including a Feb. 1 fashion show by the Off the Field Players’ Wives Association.
For Buckhead’s business district, the downside of police coverage is typically off-duty officers being pulled into service as part of the event’s massive security plan. The BCID hires such officers to direct commuters, especially out of parking garages during the 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. rush hour. BCID staffer
Tony Peters said at the recent board meeting that means “we will, more than likely, not be able to have our regular police officers” for the entire work week prior to the Super Bowl, Jan. 28 through Feb. 1.
“So it’ll be a tough week,” said BCID chairman David Allman, who is also president of the real estate firm Regent Partners. He predicted traffic “will be horrific.”
Denise Starling, executive director of Livable Buckhead, works with businesses on commuting alternatives. She said that many people are unaware that the Super Bowl is a 10-day event, not just the Sunday game. Her group is calling on employers to let people work from home.
Starling said businesses should “treat it a lot like the Olympics.” The 1996 Summer Olympics, held in Atlanta, are widely remembered as a time of wide-open highways due to commuters being scared away from downtown and people leaving town to rent out their homes.
In Perimeter Center, a similar program of off-duty traffic officers is run by the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts. That program shows no sign of being affected by Super Bowl security duty, according to PCIDs government relations director Linda Johnson. However, Perimeter Connects, the PCIDs’ commuting assistance program, is advising employers to consider letting employees work from home, especially those with commutes that run through the city of Atlanta. The crunch days will be Feb. 1 and Feb. 4, the Friday before and the Monday after the game, said Johann Weber, the assistant program manager at Perimeter Connects.
Police departments in Perimeter Center cities are loaning small numbers of officers to the main downtown Super Bowl security team. Brookhaven is providing about 10 officers; Dunwoody is providing three, and Sandy Springs is providing 10. Most of those officers are SWAT team members and all of those departments say their regular patrols will not be affected.
–Evelyn Andrews and Dyana Bagby contributed