25 Years After The Olympics Came To Its Doorstep, Summerhill Remains A Neighborhood In Transition

Construction is a near constant in the Summerhill neighborhood, one of the main sites of the 1996 Summer Olympics
Credit Emil Moffatt / WABE

Twenty-five years ago, Summerhill was buzzing with activity. There was the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic games and in between, moments like Michael Johnson sprinting toward his gold medals.

But drive through the neighborhood today, and you mainly hear the sound of construction.

“Just rapid growth and activity,” said Phil Olaleye, president of the Organized Neighbors of Summerhill. “And that can be good or not-so-good, depending on who you speak to.”

Sitting at a table outside Hero Doughnuts & Buns, one of the new restaurants in the area, he says residents here aren’t spending too much time dwelling on the anniversary of the Olympics.

“I think the aftermath just showed, it didn’t really have much of an impact on the neighboring communities. And the same can be said about the Braves,” said Olaleye.

It was only after the Braves moved to Cobb County four years ago that things began to slowly change in Summerhill. More businesses have opened up and more new residents are moving in.

This is a community that’s looked for a grocery store for decades⁠—in terms of truly being an FDA ‘food desert’⁠—Summerhill has been one.”

The company behind a lot of the redevelopment is Carter, whose president and CEO Scott Taylor says he’s aware that a developer coming in brings with it concerns about displacement and equity. He says that’s why they’ve made it a point to regularly attend neighborhood meetings and listens to those worries.

“We don’t have the solve or the answers for all of those, but we at least try to be very cognizant of the interests and needs of long-term residents in the hope that long-term residents are not displaced,” said Taylor.

New shops and restaurants continue moving in along Georgia Avenue, in Summerhill. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

One way to accomplish this, Taylor says, is to bring businesses to the area that benefit all residents – both those who’ve been in Summerhill for a long time and those who’ve just moved in.

Publix is set to break ground this summer on a grocery store. It’s scheduled to open before the end of next year. Taylor calls that a major step forward.

“This is a community that’s looked for a grocery store for decades⁠—in terms of truly being an FDA ‘food desert’⁠—Summerhill has been one,” said Taylor.

He says another top priority is making sure it’s easy to get around. Streets in the neighborhood that had long ago been paved over for parking, are being rebuilt. He says MARTA and the city of Atlanta have plans to bring a bus rapid transit line to the neighborhood.

A new apartment building in the Summerhill neighborhood pays homage to legendary Braves’ slugger Hank Aaron. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

And building up this infrastructure is important, he says, as more and more people start to call the area home.

We at least try to be very cognizant of the interests and needs of long-term residents in the hope that long-term residents are not displaced.”

A new apartment building called 565 Hank, a nod to Hank Aaron, opened this summer and is 30% leased. A hundred new townhomes are coming as well as other residential developments. That’s in addition to the 600 Georgia State students who’ve already moved into a new building in Summerhill, Aspen Heights.

“We love that mix, so we don’t anticipate adding more student housing down here, because, we really do, again, think of this as a neighborhood,” said GSU’s Bharath Parthasarathy, who is overseeing the university’s part in Summerhill. GSU does, however, plan to keep expanding its sports presence here.

The facility that housed several prominent Olympic events in 1996 is now called Center Park Credit Union Stadium and is home to Georgia State football. (Emil Moffatt)

The school’s football team plays at what used to be the Olympic stadium and later Turner Field. GSU’s basketball arena and convocation center will open next year at the north end of the neighborhood. And there are plans to build a baseball and softball complex on the site where Fulton County Stadium once stood.

“Those are still discussions that we’re planning through,” Parthasarathy said of the baseball and softball facilities. “But we absolutely believe that that’s a site that will have a lot attention to it because of its history and legacy.”

Olaleye says the neighborhood group’s relationships with GSU and with Carter have been “mostly good.” He says it’s still too early to tell whether Summerhill can avoid the fate of other neighborhoods in Atlanta and across the country where new developments have moved in and longtime residents have been forced out.

He says success to him, will be walking down the street in a few years and still knowing his neighbors by name.

“The growth is great and it’s a huge economic boon for the neighborhood and for the city,” said Olaleye. “But how does that affect and impact people who have familial ties and personal ties to place that span decades? Are they going to still call Summerhill home?”