Stone Mountain tennis stadium could have new life

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

STONE MOUNTAIN -- A revived tennis stadium could be a huge economic boon for south Gwinnett, but it would take more than $200 million for a vision presented Wednesday, consultants told the board of the Evermore Community Improvement District.

The proposal comes at a time when the Stone Mountain Memorial Association is considering the demolition of the 1996 Olympic tennis venue, but consultants said the stadium can be coupled with a vacant Target store to become a major tourism attraction.

"We (can) use this opportunity here as a catalyst to revitalize not just this area but the Park Place Activity Center and the Evermore CID," said Bill Tunnell, who presented the idea.

The stadium, which is in bad condition after years of neglect, would need at least $2.5 million of work to host any event. Over the next five years, though, consultants said a phased approach could eventually convert the stadium to an arena, at a total cost of $45 million.

Another $6 million in transportation improvements would be needed to solve access issues. Those proposed projects include a realignment of Bermuda Road at West Park Place, possibly with a roundabout at the intersection, and a link built to the interchange that currently serves as the entrance to Stone Mountain Park.

The projects could drive $158 million in private investment, including the conversion of the vacant Target store to a training complex, the use of outdoor tennis courts as a tennis academy, even hotels, mixed use retail and residential development and, in the future, offices.

But several obstacles are in the way, including the fact that the Stone Mountain Memorial Association owns the tennis venue and allows only recreational uses. Even if the CID or a developer purchases the land, the organization may restrict it from residential and hotel uses.

Plus, the money is an issue. The investments could cause a doubling of property values in the area, but even with that increase, a tax allocation district set up to fund improvements would likely only generate about $15 million of the $51 million needed for the projects.

"It's a lot of money, no question about it. It's a big commitment," Tunnell said. But "we think this project can have the same impact on south Gwinnett County (as the Arena at Gwinnett Center did on the north.)"

"We've got a lot of hurdles and everything to look at," said Chip Adair, who was elected as the new board chairman at Wednesday's meeting. "We don't have the finished product just yet."

Many of the business owners in the audience said they would like to see an immediate impact to help get them through the rough economy and some wondered if the benefit would extend along the entire seven-mile corridor of U.S. Highway 78 from Stone Mountain to Snellville.

"It's obviously big. The vision as a whole is impressive," said Emory Eastside Medical Center Chief Operating Officer Dustin Greene, who was elected to serve on the board Wednesday. "It seems like to would be a destination."

Changing board

Three new board members were sworn into office Wednesday, after the resignation of half of the divided group.

Greene and landowner Chris Garner were elected to positions vacated by Emory Morsberger and Don Robison. Stacy Patterson was also sworn in, after being appointed by the county, and Garry Lapides will be sworn in next month. The Snellville appointee's paperwork was not complete to take office Wednesday.

By this spring, six of the eight board members will be new. In a vote last month, Adair replaced his late father Forrest Adair on the board. In addition, board member Dwight Harrison has submitted his resignation and will be replaced at an April election.