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Commissioner seeks 'field of dreams'

YOUNG HARRIS - Put them in, coach. Gwinnett wants to be a player in minor-league baseball.

Commissioner Bert Nasuti pitched the idea of building a baseball park fit for a minor-league team to other board members Tuesday at a goal-setting session in Young Harris.

Nasuti is hoping Kevin Costner's adage is true: "If you build it, they will come."

"I view it as Gwinnett's field of dreams," Nasuti said. "It's another way to boost Gwinnett as a destination point."

While the idea is still low on specifics, Nasuti said he has been approached by people with ties to baseball organizations. He wants to build a facility that will not only host a Gwinnett organization but one that will also draw college tournaments, Little League tournaments and other events that would bring people to watch America's pastime.

Nasuti said he wasn't sure how the project would be funded or how the county would act in readying a facility, but he was hoping to find a private sector partner to help.

"Can we pull it off? That question was probably asked about the arena," he said, referring to the Arena at Gwinnett Center, which opened in February 2003.

Funded by hotel/motel tax revenues on land owned by the county, the arena has hosted major concerts and is home to the Gwinnett Gladiators minor-league hockey team. It was also formerly the home of the Georgia Force arena football team.

The county recently became home to the Atlanta Vision, a minor-league basketball team that is playing at the Suwanee Sports Academy.

So far, Nasuti has only asked for a feasibility study, which was the first step in building the arena.

"There are a thousand questions, including where would it be located," Deputy County Administrator Mike Comer said. "He's got a big idea. I'm not sure we totally understand his vision yet."

Comer said the Rome government recently built a $15 million minor-league baseball facility using sales tax proceeds, but Gwinnett can't use money from its current tax program because the facility wasn't included in a voter referendum two years ago.

The government has taken steps over the past decade to bring major amenities to the area.

In addition to owning the land where the arena is located, the government gave $25 million to fund its construction. The county government also bought land and donated it to the Board of Regents to spur the location of a college in Gwinnett, and commissioners last month agreed to donate money to the hospital for expansion.

Other goals listed at the annual retreat Tuesday include:

•Measures to strengthen the county's quality-of-life initiative, including creating a division within the Police Department for effort and speeding up the process of cleaning up areas.

•Enhancing the county's ethics ordinance.

•Speeding up considerations for business-related rezonings.

•Finding ways to involve Gwinnett's minority communities and marketing diversity as a strength in economic development.