Panthers Football

Why Atlanta should be excited

Are you ready for the kickoff?! For GSU’s inaugural football season, seven home games will be played at the Georgia Dome in a “lower bowl” configuration of about 27,000 seats. This has generated considerable anticipation within the university community. But how excited should the broader city and its residents be about this dramatic development and its potential for generating benefits to the community? There are a number of reasons why Atlanta should be almost as enthusiastic as the university community.


There has been no shortage of claimed saviors of downtown Atlanta, from the Olympic Games to aquariums to museums. Attractions and events cannot do it alone, however. The long-term economic health of the central business district (CBD) is vital to the health of the entire city, and CBD vibrancy depends not only on short-term visitors to attractions and events but also on a core population of downtown residents. In fact, recent research on “central recreation districts” (CRDs) has isolated increasing complementarities between factors attracting visitors and intra-metro area living decisions. Georgia State football will contribute to both of these objectives.

Even after the post-Olympics mini-boom of condo conversions, the CBD population failed to exceed 5,000, so the introduction of more than 3,000 new residents via university student housing has been vital. Over the next few years, an additional several thousand students will move into downtown campus housing. The longer-term economic success of the city’s core clearly depends on the continuing expansion of the university and housing for students who are enthusiastic about not only learning, but living in the heart of the city.

Experiences elsewhere are encouraging. Cleveland State University’s post-2006 student housing expansion, further supported by academic and athletic improvements, is part of a transformation of Cleveland’s former Quadrangle District into what is now called the Campus District. The role of the University of Pennsylvania in the post-1996 revitalization of West Philadelphia has been documented in the 2007 book “The University and Urban Revival.”


To complement GSU’s growing academic reputation, the new football program has already garnered favorable national press and renewed interest in the university. If football helps to convince more students to choose Georgia State and to live closer to campus and its sports venues, there is the potential for significant longer-term economic impact.

Georgia State University has 161,341 living alumni; only 27,658 of whom live within Atlanta city limits. GSU football offers a reason for thousands of alumni to visit during football weekends. Many will eat in restaurants downtown, providing another reason for expanding operating hours, and out-of-towners will stay in Atlanta hotels.

While it is well understood that short term visitors alone cannot create viable urban districts, the combination of expanded visitation and increased residential populations should make an important contribution to the vitality of downtown Atlanta. GSU President Emeritus Carl Patton often stated that the university would be a part of the city, not apart from it. Georgia State football will help further this reality.

Bruce A. Seaman is associate professor of economics in the Andrew Young School of policy studies and Kenneth L. Bernhardt is Taylor E. Little Jr. professor of marketing in the Robinson College of Business.