A Gold Medal For Grit

From his sixth-floor office, Billy Payne can watch his Olympic vision come to life. Just below, bulldozers clear what will become the 21-acre Centennial Olympic Park, designed to serve as the heart of the Games. Next to that, Coca-Cola Co. is readying a 14-acre virtual-reality park. The construction, boasts Payne, president of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, represents "one of the lasting impacts of the Olympics in Atlanta."

There's just one problem. Amid the heaps of red earth, three little buildings still stand--and their owners pledge they will be there when the games open next July. Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell says their presence will be no big deal: "It's like looking out over a beautiful beach, and there's a piece of paper on the beach, and all you think about is the piece of paper." But the holdouts clearly are a sore point. Planners intend to erect tall structures around them to hide them from view.

Too bad, says Ed Taylor, owner of a printing company located on a dusty plot Coke wanted to fold into its glistening $20 million attraction. "They said they would welcome me as a neighbor," he says. "I said, `Shoot, I was here first. I'll welcome you as a neighbor."' He and two other small-business owners want top dollar for property they say has appreciated 1,300% since Payne and Coke announced plans for the Olympic development last summer.

Taylor says Coke offered him $95 a square foot for the site six months ago. He asked for $115, plus a new building five miles north of downtown. Coke balked. Olympic planners at the company say they negotiated in good faith with the property owners and offered prices above market value. The owners' complaints, says a spokeswoman, are "not a good representation of how we transact our business and especially how we transact business in our town."

It's much the same at two other holdouts. Payne says property owned by Maxwell & Hitchcock, a construction equipment outfit, was under contract for $1.9 million--until the company upped its price to $9 million. Ron Miller, vice-president of Maxwell & Hitchcock, says those figures are wrong but wouldn't comment further. Superior Printing Co. General Manager Pierce Morris says his company turned down Coke's "woefully inadequate" bid.

The standoff continues. The renegades say all they want is their piece of the pie. "I'm just trying to end up on top," Taylor says. Maybe Payne should try offering him the toughest tickets in town: seats at the opening ceremony.

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