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Sugar Hill to lease city property for gym, health center

SUGAR HILL - A 70-acre city-owned parcel will hold a privately owned gymnasium and health center in about two years.

Sugar Hill city officials agreed to lease the undeveloped land next to the golf course on Suwanee Dam Road to Global Sports United for 50 years, for which the city will earn $1 per year in rent. At the end of the 50-year lease, Sugar Hill will own the 200,000 square-foot structure.

"It will help us craft the city identity as The Recreation City," said Councilman Marc Cohen.

The two-story building will be constructed to energy-efficient "green" standards using sunlight, low-impact lighting and environmentally friendly building materials. A walking trail will wind through landscaping atop the organic roof. It will hold a family athletic center and facilities for 12 different sports, including basketball, volleyball, dance, cheerleading and martial arts, as well as eight ball fields and a 10,000- to 12,000-seat stadium, said John Tamburo, CEO of Global Sports United.

Tamburo plans to grow a complete health and wellness center holding offices for dentists, orthodontist, orthopedic and physical therapists, a company that tests pharmaceutical drugs and an obesity research and solutions center.

The city will get free use of the facilities up to 10 times per year, supplying a backup indoor location for rained-out events like movies, concerts and festivals.

The agreement is a win-win situation for both the city and Global Sports United.

"We don't pay the utilities or the upkeep, we get the use of the facility and at the end of the lease, we own the building and keep the land," Mayor Gary Pirkle said.

Sugar Hill's golf course was constructed in 1992 solely as a place to spray treated water from a nearby Gwinnett County sewage treatment plant. The plant went offline in 2004 and the spraying stopped. City officials had once earmarked the adjacent 70 acres for an additional nine-hole golf course expansion, but decided instead to keep the property in reserve.

"When I came to council (in the late 1990s) the city was almost bankrupt and struggling to make payroll and the sale of land is what got us out of it," Pirkle said. "We sold our Sycamore Road land for the Primrose subdivision and we decided to keep the golf course land in reserve in case hard times come back."

Sugar Hill now has $15 million in reserve funds.