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Lilburn residents discuss hopes, fears of sports complex

LILBURN — Local residents don’t know if a baseball complex can fulfill their dreams, but nearly all agreed in a talking session Wednesday that something was needed to boost the bedroom community.

“I think we all have some fear because of the economy, but I think this may be the time to take advantage of something to look upbeat,” Maryanne Jones said, as more than two dozen residents and business leaders gathered at the Blue Rooster Cafe.

On their minds is a $20 million proposal to convert a sewage plant soon to be out of service to a Big League Dreams park, creating fields, restaurants and more for both tournament play and the community. The Lilburn City Council will consider a $450,000 partially refundable commitment to study the venture at its Monday session.

Gerald McDowell, the executive director of the newly created Lilburn Community Improvement District, said the idea has already generated buzz in the business community, with a hotelier contacting him about the plan.

But many of the people gathered Wednesday said they were concerned about traffic, crime, the impact on nearby Mountain Park Park and other detractions that could come from the project. Mostly, though, they were concerned that the project would fail and the city would be left paying off the debts.

“We do not have the community infrastructure right now to reach out and risk take for other things,” Marianne Schlinkert said, as many in the crowd lamented the limited shopping and eating options in Lilburn.

Mike Smith, who organized the gab session, said city leaders are hoping the county will donate land on Indian Trail, where the Jackson Creek Water Reclamation Facility is expected to be closed next year. The city would own the land and has pursued stimulus funding and tax allocation district funding to help pay for the development of the complex, which would include ball fields and an indoor complex, likely for soccer or basketball. Then, California-based Big League Dreams would operate the facility, renting it out for tournaments and even weddings.

“We’ve got to decide what we want to be. Do we want to be a sleepy little bedroom community? Do we want to attract companies like NCR or do we want to be the sports center of north Georgia,” Smith said, vowing to take the concerns and questions presented Wednesday to council members.

Many said that if there were guarantees that the $450,000 would be returned, the idea is worth pursuing, if only to gather more information and answer more questions.

“My fear is nothing will happen, and Lilburn will continue to be a drive-through to get somewhere else,” said Jacqueline Stearns.