Center Parc Stadium – Georgia State Panthers
Photos by David Welch, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.29
Center Parc Stadium
755 Hank Aaron Dr SE
Atlanta, GA 30315
Year Opened: 1996
What came to life in 1996 as the center of the sports world at the Centennial Olympic Games, then would next be transformed into Turner Field and home of the Atlanta Braves for the next 18 years, has found new life in the form of Center Parc Stadium, home of Georgia State Panthers football.
Shortly after the Braves announced they were leaving downtown for the northwest suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia State University finalized a deal to purchase the property, with plans to develop the area into the new home of Georgia State football. Simply named “Georgia State Stadium" at first, it would be the third incarnation of the stadium.
Since undergoing its most recent remodel, the newly branded Center Parc Stadium has been home to not just Georgia State football, but also the MEAC/SWAC Challenge, the Atlanta Legends of the now defunct American Association of Football, and the Georgia High School Association annual state football championship games.
Food & Beverage 3
Food and drink options inside the stadium are much as what would be expected at most any stadium in the country – hot dogs, burgers, pretzels, nachos, pizza, cotton candy, and soda. Alcohol selections include seltzers ($11), premixed canned spirit drinks ($12), wine by the glass ($9) or carafe ($34), and what was termed “Adult Capri Sun” ($14), a large bag of a spiked, fruity concoction. Beer selections include choices from the Budweiser and Yuengling families of beers, ranging from a $6 value beer to $11 for 24 oz domestics. Local brewery Three Taverns also has a handful of kiosks around the stadium that offer some of their craft beers.
The most popular food choice at Center Parc Stadium seems to be the rather non-descript, candy striped food truck parked near the main entry plaza, specializing in fried foods: funnel cake, three types of corn dogs, and what appeared to be the most popular option, chicken tenders with tots served with “Magic Sauce”. As it turns out, “Magic Sauce” is a spicy sweet-n-sour sauce. It was decent, but at $18 not necessarily considered a must have.
Prices at Center Parc Stadium are consistent with expected prices at most other stadiums. In general they are about twice what you might expect to pay if the offerings were not at the stadium. With numerous concessions stands and standalone food and drink kiosks, lines are commonly short and there is not a lot of wait time.
One does not need to look far to find the game-day atmosphere at Center Parc Stadium. Approximately two dozen tents dot the plaza area directly outside the main gates. In one location fraternities have their tents set up with music pumping, beer pong tables set up, and reveling in other similar tailgating activities. Nearby, alumni had their own tents set up with slightly more subdued events. This tailgating area is also the center of the pre-game Panther Walk which leads players into the stadium, while pep-squads lead fans in cheers and the band belts out the school fight song.
Inside the gates, the transformation from Turner Field to Center Parc Stadium feels like a swinging pendulum. On one hand Georgia State has created a very cozy 24,000-seat football stadium that puts fans right on top of the action on the field. On the other hand, the rest of the stadium that once sat an additional 30,000 fans is still there, not used. It creates a sense of emptiness, even though what is available for football seating is close to two-thirds full. There are many other reminders of the stadium that once was, and it is difficult not to notice. The most glaring reminder is the empty steel framework that once supported stadium signage. It still does today, but the signs that are there now do not fit the framing and have an awkward look to them.
Georgia State does a good job with game presentation – there is a good mix of the traditional sounds of a football game, from the marching band that is intertwined with piped in hype music that gets fans on their feet dancing. The train horn that blares throughout the game: to get the game started, after big plays, and when a stop is needed from the defense, adds nicely to the gameday ambiance.
Something that seems to be missing was the lack of game statistics. Other than the score boards at each end of the stadium that give the score and down and distance, the large replay board was never used to show any type of statistics. It’s mostly showing the game that is going on right in front of you. It’s good for replays, but the lack of statistics seems like a missed opportunity for those who are into the analysis of the game.
The Summerhill neighborhood that surrounds Center Parc Stadium were all but deserted by the time the Braves left the area. The stadium was mostly surrounded by empty, weed-infested lots and homes which had been long neglected. As new housing started to rise out of what had been parking lots surrounding the stadium, new businesses did as well. Soon, what had once been a desert of pre- and post-game activity now has more choices than one could ever need.
Halfway Crooks provides a “micro-gastro-brewery” vibe – their biergarten offers a variety of beer styles and an appetizer/sandwich centered food menu. Other new restaurants have popped up down Georgia Avenue and offer something for all pallets. Hot Dog Pete’s offers a wide variety of regional hot dogs and vegan options, Junior’s gives pizza options, and Woods Chapel has a boutique bar-b-cue feel. While there are many new, quality food options in the areas directly around the stadium, Daddy Dz BBQ Joynt, one of Atlanta’s best BBQ establishments, is just a mile away.
From where the neighborhood once was to where it is today, there has been a 180-degree turnaround. There does seem to be a bit of a disconnect between the stadium and the newly established restaurants just outside the main gates, which did not have the feel of fans flocking to these establishments in anticipation of the Panther Walk prior to kick off. A downtown stadium seems to have a tougher time in creating a gameday feel than what one might expect to experience in a more traditional college town.
The overall fan interest in Georgia State football seems to be a bit passive, but of the fans who are in attendance, they are actively engaged with the game. Fans crank up the volume when a 3rd -&-short stop is needed, even when not prompted to do so.
With an undergraduate enrollment of just shy of 29,000, student attendance takes up of two-and-a-half of the end zone sections. Georgia State is largely a commuter campus with students coming from the surrounding communities for classes, so they don’t have a large on-campus student body given the size of their enrollment. This impacts their student attendance at games, which really goes a long way in creating a gameday atmosphere.
Getting to Center Parc Stadium is very direct. Located right off Atlanta’s Downtown Connector (I-75/85), it is easily accessible by vehicle. Fans coming from the east or west can just as easily use Interstate 20. Multiple exits funnel to the parking lots just north of the stadium. For those who would rather take public transportation, Atlanta’s subway service MARTA has a Georgia State station which is a 1-mile, direct walk to the stadium.
The challenge of getting back on to the highways that surround the stadium after the game is not as daunting as it once was. Just like any other downtown stadium though, the highways often are clogged with city traffic.
Return on Investment 4
The basic ticket price is $20, which is one of the most affordable in the Sun Belt Conference. Parking at $15 is a tick higher than I’d consider ideal, but given the affordability of the ticket price it makes the overall cost very reasonable. Food and drink prices are comparable to what you’d expect to pay at most major sporting events.
The large team shop is one of the first things that greets fans as they come through the gates into the plaza. It offers anything a fan might expect to find at the game. Pounce Town sits off to the left of the plaza, and provides a football themed activity area to help keep kids entertained, when the game itself might not be enough to sustain their attention.
One of the most prominent traditions are the blasts of the train horn that sounds throughout the game. It serves to pump-up the crowd while paying homage to Atlanta history when it was nicknamed “Terminus”, as it was the end of the Western & Atlantic Railroad. Atlanta United FC has a similar historic tie-in to the city’s railroad history with their driving of the golden spike prior to the start of their matches.
What Georgia State is trying to create in a game day atmosphere is difficult for a school in their shoes. Football, more-so than other college sports, tends to thrive on the game day feel in what might be considered college towns, meaning communities where the college or university is THE attraction. Being in downtown Atlanta that feel just isn’t there. The fact that the university made the investment into purchasing the stadium and surrounding area is evident they are willing to invest in the football program, but it lacks a true college football experience.
The hardest thing Georgia State faces when it comes to the stadium is that it’s always going to be seen as Turner Field. Even the highway signs leading to the stadium still bare the name. There are just so many baseball memories tied to it Atlantans will always think of it as “The Ted”.