Centennial Olympic Park plants majestic holiday tree

Despite the week’s cold and wet weather, Centennial Olympic Park has planted a new beacon of holiday cheer that should last throughout the year – and many more to come.

Towering more than 30 feet high, and weighing in at 30,000 pounds (soaking wet), a deodar cedar imported from South Carolina found its new home in the park near the corner of Marietta Street and Park Avenue West across from the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame, and it will soon be decorated for the winter holidays. The tree – which is expected to grow up to 70 feet tall, averaging two inches of growth per year – becomes a permanent fixture, and takes over for an artificial tree that was traditionally brought in for the holidays and decorated on The Belvedere, the highest vantage point in the park.

The park’s new tree is between 35-40 years-old and should live hundreds of years, according to Scott Rushton of MNI Direct, which located the prized specimen on behalf of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA), owner and operator of the 22-acre park.

“The longevity is a lifetime,” he said.

Centennial Olympic Park’s new deodar cedar being lifted into place on Wednesday. Photo by Ikram Omar, GWCCA.

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, “deodar, derives from Sanskrit that translates to ‘timber of the gods.’ The tree is native to the Himalayas, where it has been known to reach 250-feet tall. It was introduced to Europe in 1822 and to the United States nine years later.”

It is an evergreen, which means it keeps its foliage year-round. And it should be able to withstand the heat of Georgia summers, said Rushton.

ArborDay.org describes the deodar cedar as having “elegant, pendulous branches. Attractive coloring. Pleasing shape. Interesting branching patterns. It’s a tree born to be a landscape specimen.”

There are a few other deodar cedars on campus, located at the pocket park at the corner of Northside Drive and Joseph Boone Blvd., where the Authority also installed beehives in August.

Atlanta is known as “the city in the forest” and although the GWCCA’s 220-acre downtown campus features plenty of hardscapes, there’s also an abundance of greenery, including 9.86 acres of tree cover.

Brought in on an 18-wheeler flatbed and cab dubbed Da Big Toy early Wednesday morning, it took several hours for workers toiling in the rain and frigid conditions to unload and then install the massive tree, taking its place beside a mature maple and zelkova, and near some-recently planted Japanese pagoda trees.

The commotion attracted the curiosity of many onlookers, including folks peering out of the large second-story College Football Hall of Fame window overlooking Marietta Street.

Archival photo of the Rich’s department store downtown Atlanta holiday tree. The site was incorporated into to what is now the Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center.

For those who remember Atlanta’s Christmases past, the site of the majestic evergreen conjures memories of the Rich’s Great Tree only a few blocks from the GWCCA campus – a tradition that now lives on at Macy’s at Lenox Square in Buckhead, albeit in much less spectacular fashion.

The Atlanta holiday ritual began in 1948, and featured a 70-to-90-foot tall cut pine each year which was lit up on Thanksgiving night atop the department store’s multi-level Crystal Bridge over Forsyth street, amid much pomp and circumstance, including performances by massive choirs and appearances by Santa.

“As a kid, you came down here to see it,” recalled Mark Lewis, MNI Direct’s branch manager.

Plans are in the works to light the park’s new holiday tree right after Thanksgiving, so stay tuned to the GWCCA’s social media channels for updated information. Follow the hashtag, #AuthoriTREE.

Besides lighting and decorating the new tree, the park will not host other winter holiday activities this year and into early 2019, including the Holiday In Lights display, decorations and ice rink due to ongoing renovations of the facility and because of activity related to Super Bowl 53.

During the 10 days of ancillary events surrounding the Super Bowl, the park will host Super Bowl LIVE from Jan. 26 through Feb. 2, a gathering spot for sports fans featuring free entertainment that’s being curated by Atlanta hip-hop and R&B producer/artist Jermaine Dupri.