Gwinnett commissioners greenlight demolition of Olympic tennis stadium

The old Olympic Tennis Center on the Gwinnett-DeKalb County line sits unused in this file photo from February. Gwinnett County commissioners voted to award a contract for the stadium’s demolition on Tuesday, clearing the way for the site to be redevelope

Gwinnett County commissioners moved one step closer to their goal of someday redeveloping the old Olympic Tennis Center site near Stone Mountain by approving the facility’s demolition on Tuesday.

The commission awarded a nearly $1.08 million contract to TOA LLC for the tearing down of the facility, which was built for the 1996 Summer Olympics but hasn’t been used in years. The county acquired the property in a land swap with the Stone Mountain Memorial Association last year.

The goal is to tear down the center and then seek proposals for developers on how to redevelop the site, possibly in a mixed-use capacity. Commissioners said the center is in a severe state of disrepair, and would be far too costly to rebuild.

“It does two things,” Commissioner Lynette Howard said of the stadium. “It hinders people’s creativity, but most importantly, it’s a huge liability with people breaking in and going in and shooting videos of themselves doing all sorts of crazy things in there. Somebody is going to get hurt.”

Eventually, the stadium site — after the stadium is demolished and redevelopment proposals are received — will be turned over to private developers to build something on the land. That will put it back on the public tax rolls for the first time in decades, but it will also provide an opportunity for redevelopment in that area.

Howard said that area has already been getting some attention from the development community since Heatcraft moved into a facility a few doors down from the tennis center a few years ago. An old Target that was adjacent to the tennis stadium has become a storage facility and Netherworld’s owners have been looking at converting a nearby space into their new home.

“It’s exciting just because of the interest in that area since Heatcraft initially invested over there,” Howard said. “People are saying, ‘Wow, this is worth investing in.’ “

County spokesman Joe Sorenson said demolition of the stadium is not expected to begin until late June. A timeline for the demolition must be finalized before work can begin he said.

The tennis center’s slated demolition is just one example of what has happened to the facilities built for the 1996 Olympics.

While the Olympic Stadium, for example, was converted into Turner Field — as had been intended since before the Olympics — and the aquatic sports venue was converted into Georgia Tech’s Aquatic Center, some other facilities have not enjoyed the same kind of continued long-term use as sports venues.

Like the tennis center, the beach volleyball facility at Clayton County International Park in Jonesboro has not hosted sports activities in years. The beach volleyball facility, however, was converted into a concert venue years ago, and has been used occasionally for that purpose since then.

“Moving for demolition is not something we take very lightly at all,” Commissioner John Heard said. “The Olympic Tennis Center that was built for the ‘96 Olympics has been in place for 25 years now and has been running down the entire time. All of the copper has been stolen out of it. It is a health and safety hazard right now.”

Howard said one issue facing the site is the fact that it was built on top of a stream, which she said has caused it to have issues with water retention. As the stadium has crumbled over the years, plants have begun to grow inside the stadium.

An urban explorer video on YouTube shows what appear to be pine trees starting to grow around the edges of the court where Andre Agassi and Lindsay Davenport won Olympic gold medals in men’s and women’s singles, respectively, 21 years ago.

“It’s got water to grow and sunlight and holes and cracks (to grow in),” Howard said of the stadium’s plant life. “Structurally, it just wasn’t a sound structure.”

I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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