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Tennis Center music to ears of promoter

STONE MOUNTAIN - Jason Lary thinks he's found metro Atlanta's next great outdoor music venue - a nearly 8,000-seat Olympic tennis center tucked between strip malls and discount stores.

The Lithonia-based promoter wants to bring classic soul and jazz concerts to Stone Mountain Tennis Center, which sits just off U.S. Highway 78 next to a Super Target.

The center, technically part of Stone Mountain Park though not inside it, was built for the 1996 Olympic Summer Games in Atlanta. But, outside of the Davis Cup several years ago, center court has been devoid of championship-caliber tennis events since the Olympics.

Lary said he has a proven track record turning around the aging Lithonia Amphitheater, making it into what he called the next "Chastain (Park Amphitheatre) of the South."

He said he did it by booking acts such as jazz performers George Duke and Alex Bugnon.

Lary believes he can do even greater things with Stone Mountain Tennis Center, listing U2 and R.E.M. among bands he wants. This kind of ambition might seem like a stretch to some - talking about two of the most popular bands in the world playing in what is touted as the premier tennis tournament facility in the Southeast.

Lary appears as confident as he is driven.

"We did the same thing in Lithonia, where we had an open amphitheater that was not being used," Lary said. "Now I'm the third biggest revenue producer in that town.

"I can hold even bigger acts here."

The Tennis Center stands at Bermuda Road and U.S. Highway 78.

It includes 16 championship hardcourts and is used for high school and USTA tennis tournaments, but major tennis events have been hard to come by in recent years, said D. Gary Hill, president of the nonprofit group that runs the courts.

Hill said the aging venue needs a consistent revenue-maker. He thinks Lary's concert series can deliver it.

First, Lary has to nail down the artists for his summer concerts. He said Morris Day and The Time, and Motown legend Smokey Robinson are probably locks for this season, which could run from June to September.

Lary will have to convert center court into a music venue, including what he described as a rather ornate stage that included columns.

One other detail to be ironed out: Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners may want to talk to Hill and Lary about the concerts. Commissioner Mike Beaudreau met with the two businessmen for the first time Thursday and toured the Tennis Center.

Beaudreau said outdoor concerts at the Tennis Center would draw attention to a great venue, and it may become a bona fide tourist attraction. But he said commissioners need to consider the security matters and traffic problems that come with drawing up to 7,000 music fans into an area not accustomed to that much activity.