Atlanta was selected on September 18, 1990, in Tokyo, Japan, over Athens, Belgrade, Manchester, Melbourne, and Toronto at the 96th IOC Session. Atlanta's bid to host the Summer Games that began in 1987 was considered a long-shot, since the U.S. had hosted the Summer Olympics 12 years earlier in Los Angeles. Atlanta's main rivals were Toronto, whose front-running bid that began in 1986 seemed almost sure to succeed after Canada had held a successful 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, and Melbourne, Australia, who hosted the 1956 Summer Olympics and after Brisbane, Australia's failed bid for the 1992 games (which were awarded to Barcelona) and prior to Sydney, Australia's successful 2000 Summer Olympics bid, they felt that the Olympic Games should return to Australia. If Melbourne was awarded the games, 1996 would mark the 40th anniversary of the 1956 Summer Olympics, which were held in the same city. This would be Toronto's fourth failed attempt since 1960 (tried in 1960, 1964, and 1976, but defeated by Rome, Tokyo and Montreal). The Athens bid was based on the fact that 1996 marked 100 years since the first Summer Games in Greece in 1896, though Athens would eventually host the 2004 Summer Olympics. The initial push for 1996 coming to Atlanta originated from Billy Payne and then Atlanta mayor Andrew Young; their main push for the Olympics to come to Atlanta was a motivation to showcase a changed and resurgent American South which was overcoming racial tensions from the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s and featured a robust and growing Southern economy to help offset international stereotypes that the region was still plagued with poverty.
The Oxford Olympics Study 2016 estimates the outturn cost of the Atlanta 1996 Summer Olympics at USD 4.1 billion in 2015-dollars and cost overrun at 151% in real terms. This includes sports-related costs only, that is, (i) operational costs incurred by the organizing committee for the purpose of staging the Games, e.g., expenditures for technology, transportation, workforce, administration, security, catering, ceremonies, and medical services, and (ii) direct capital costs incurred by the host city and country or private investors to build, e.g., the competition venues, the Olympic village, international broadcast center, and media and press center, which are required to host the Games. Indirect capital costs are not included, such as for road, rail, or airport infrastructure, or for hotel upgrades or other business investment incurred in preparation for the Games but not directly related to staging the Games. The cost for Atlanta 1996 compares with costs of USD 4.6 billion for Rio 2016, USD 40-44 billion for Beijing 2008 and USD 51 billion for Sochi 2014, the most expensive Olympics in history. Average cost for the Summer Games since 1960 is USD 5.2 billion, average cost overrun is 176%.
The 1996 Olympics was predicated on the financial model established by the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. The cost to stage the Games was US$1.8 billion. U.S. Government funds were used for security, and around $500 million of taxpayer money was used on the physical infrastructure including streetscaping, road improvements, Centennial Olympic Park, expansion of airport, improvements in public transportation, and redevelopment of public housing projects but neither paid for the actual Games nor the new Venues themselves. To pay for the games, Atlanta relied on commercial sponsorship and ticket sales, resulting in a profit of $19 million.
Events of the 1996 Games were held in a variety of areas. A number were held within the Olympic Ring, a 3 mi (4.8 km) circle from the center of Atlanta. Others were held at Stone Mountain, about 20 miles (32 km) outside of the city. To broaden ticket sales, other events, such as soccer, occurred in various cities in the Southeast.
The Olympiad's official theme, "Summon the Heroes", was written by John Williams, making it the third Olympiad at that point for which he had composed (official composer 1984; NBC's coverage composer 1988). The opening ceremony featured Céline Dion singing "The Power of the Dream", the official theme song of the 1996 Olympics. The mascot for the Olympiad was an abstract, animated character named Izzy. In contrast to the standing tradition of mascots of national or regional significance in the city hosting the Olympiad, Izzy was an amorphous, fantasy figure. The 1996 Olympics were the first to have two separate opening ceremony events. Savannah, because of its geographical separation from Atlanta, had its own opening ceremonies on July 18, 1996. The event featured "Worldwide Connection", a song composed by Savannah native Jeffrey Reed and a concert by Trisha Yearwood, a Georgia native.