Nearly four years ago, Gwinnett County leaders finalized a complicated deal to trade some land with the Stone Mountain Memorial Foundation to acquire the former Olympic Tennis Center site in the southern part of the county.
It’s also been about three years since that center was torn down. And more than a year since developers were asked to submit proposals for redeveloping the site as well.
And, yet, what will be done with the site remains unknown. The fact that the U.S. has been in the grips of a global pandemic for much of 2020 hasn’t helped matters, Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash recently told the Daily Post.
“Quite honestly, the uncertainty of COVID-19 means that we took a pause on it to let things sort out because people (in the development community) are not in the mood to take on additional uncertainty right now,” Nash said. “So, we thought it was good to take a pause.”
Gwinnett acquired the former former center site, which is located at the junction of West Park Place Boulevard, Bermuda Road and U.S. Highway 78, in late 2016. The plan has always been to redevelop the site, but county officials have repeatedly said they wanted to see what the development community could come up with for the site rather than specifying what kind of redevelopment should take place there.
The one clear vision was that they saw it as a catalyst site to spur redevelopment of the surrounding area. Instead, other nearby development and redevelopment projects have begun and either finished or are close to being finished before county officials finalize a plan for the tennis center site.
Two big projects in the area in recent years has been the relocation of the popular Netherworld Haunted House to a site nearly across West Park Place Boulevard from the former tennis site and the development of the Amazon fulfillment center, which is set to open this fall, down the street.
Amazon, in particular, is a big potential draw for developers to the tennis center site since it is expected to generate about 1,000 new jobs, Nash conceded.
“Anything that draws attention to it (helps),” she said. “They know this number of jobs immediately creates economic activity in the area so, yes, this is definitely a plus for whatever happens on the tennis site.”
Despite the drawn out process to redevelop the site, the county has not exactly stood still in what it has done with the property. The tennis stadium, which was built for the 1996 summer Olympics, was torn down in 2017 and the site is now a fenced off grassy field.
But, the county has also been working on other redevelopment and development projects in recent years. One is the planned redevelopment of the OFS site off Interstate 85 at Jimmy Carter Boulevard near Norcross, which is expected to follow a similar path to what will be used at the tennis center site.
Another is the recently announced Rowen research park in eastern Gwinnett.
“We might have been focused a little bit on Rowen,” Nash said as she discussed why the county has put the tennis center project on pause.
There are other factors that could have had an impact.
Since a request for information went out to developers seeking ideas for the site in the summer of 2019, the county watched the big Revel mixed-use redevelopment project at the Infinite Energy Center fall apart after the developer, North American Properties, pulled out of that project late last year.
Nash said that experience has not necessarily given county officials cause for concern with the tennis center site. It has been a learning experience for the county in dealing with the tennis center site, however.
“The tennis site is so much smaller and not the same kind of huge development that Revel was planned to be, but certainly, it may give us another set of questions to ask as that process goes forward,” Nash said.
Despite the halt in progress on the old tennis center site, officials remain optimistic about its potential because of what is happening in the surrounding area.
At the recent announcement of the upcoming opening of the Amazon fulfillment center less than a mile down the street, Nash sounded optimistic about the possible affect that site could have on the redevelopment of the old tennis center property.
“It’s very close to the property that we own at the old tennis center site, and hopefully this type of activity is going to help rejuvenate the whole area as the county decides what it’s going to do with that tennis center site,” she said.