Final Four weekend kicks off in Atlanta



ATLANTA - Hundreds of people headed into Centennial Olympic Park for a free concert as part of the weekend Final Four festivities.

The park opened around noon Saturday, when Channel 2’s Rachel Stockman saw dozens of people running toward the stage to claim front-row seats. Stockman saw hundreds of attendees in line as early as 9 a.m. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis took the stage around 1:45 p.m. Atlanta rapper Ludacris performed as did rapper Flo Rida later in the day.

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“For me, this is my first concert. It’s a free show. I’m just excited to be here,” Quinelle Bethelmie said.

Sting and the Dave Matthews Band are two of the acts slated to play on Sunday.

Organizers said Centennial Olympic Park can accommodate 5,000 people. The concerts are on a first-come, first-serve but organizers don’t expect to turn anyone away.

Meanwhile, Atlanta police have increased patrols to make sure sports fans have a safe time this weekend. Channel 2’s Ryan Young got a look inside of the Atlanta joint operations center, where fire and sheriff’s officials have been working alongside Georgia Bureau of Investigations and Federal Bureau of

Investigations agents to make sure the downtown and midtown areas are secure. Police said more than 800 officers are working 12-hour shifts. Atlanta Police Chief George Turner said they are trying to keep things as smooth as possible.

"I hope that people feel really welcome, and our officers are engaging and they feel that they can go up to any officer and get help as they move throughout the city," Turner said.

Turner told Young the city has come a long way with technology since hosting the 1996 Summer Olympic Games and the plan for hosting the Final Four has been in the works for at least two years.

"I want people to see how great it is and what we have to offer. Our police department, our city, I think, is so rich and what we're doing is entertaining and taking care of people," Turner said.

"This is what we do. What we say is, if we can handle 2 million people during the 1996 Olympics, surely we can handle 100,000 for this incredible basketball tournament," Mayor Kasim Reed told Young.

Economists said the Final Four is expected to bring in millions of dollars to the city. Restaurants, hotels and other hot tourist spots will be some of the biggest economic winners this weekend. Leaders with the Atlanta Sports Council expect the games and all of the events to bring in about $78 to $81 million.

So far, there have been no reports of major delays. Meanwhile, a Georgia Department of Transportation camera captured a steady flow of traffic near downtown.

MARTA officials are urging people to take buses and trains to avoid expected delays. MARTA will keep trains running on the weekday schedule to help commuters get around. Buses, though, are still operating on their normal weekend schedule.

"MARTA is ready. We know that this is going to be a big weekend, with big events and big crowds and we want to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible for all the guests who are going to be riding MARTA," spokesman Lyle Harris told Byfield.

MARTA also plans to increase police patrols and encourages travelers to download its new “see something, say something” app to report any problems.

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