The proposed Tennis Center of Georgia at Berry College was mentioned Thursday as the board discussed possible projects to be considered as part of the city’s recommendation for the upcoming SPLOST referendum.
The talk happened during the second day of the City Commission’s two-day planning retreat at WinShape at Berry College.
Proposed to include 82 courts and cost an estimated $18.7 million, the tennis complex would be built on 30 acres donated by Berry College along the Armuchee Connector near Mount Berry Square mall.
Attempts at obtaining $7.5 million in state economic bonds to jump-start the development have been shot down each of the last four legislative sessions, including the current one.
“If you’re going to put all your chips on the state, this will never get built,” Rome Mayor Evie McNiece said. “If we’re going to do something like this, we’re going to have to do it ourselves.”
Commissioners Bill Irmscher and Jamie Doss voiced their approval of trying to get the center on the SPLOST list, and the general consensus among the board was to submit it as part of the city’s recommendation.
A 2009 study estimated the center could host as many as 35 multi-day tennis events a year, with an annual economic impact of more than $28 million.
“I don’t think we can comprehend how much this would do for our community,” Assistant City Manager Sammy Rich said. “Short of a massive private donation — which is unlikely — SPLOST is the only way we’re going to get it done.”
City Manager John Bennett said it would be better if they could go into the SPLOST vote with a plan on how to avoid a deficit for the first few years created by operating costs.
The worry that Rome may have missed the opportunity to complete the center after it had been so long in limbo led to the mention that other cities in Georgia have looked at this and are considering building similar facilities.
While Rome officials do plan on making a presentation to the Rome-Floyd SPLOST Citizen Committee once it begins meeting, Bennett made it clear that the projects discussed Thursday were not the final list.
The SPLOST committee will review all submissions for projects or equipment to be covered by a new 1-cent special purpose, local option sales tax and will recommend a package. Elected officials would have the final say on what appears on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Purchasing and developing new sites for industry was brought up as a need that a SPLOST could help fill.
“If we’re going to be competitive with the rest of the world, we’ve got to have more land designated for industrial use,” Bennett said.
While the new Lowe’s Distribution Center on Ga. 53 was a big get for the city, it will end up filling nearly half of the industrial land on the site, according to Bennett.
He said the city had no large sites that were “shovel ready,” meaning developed with utility service.
“It goes without saying that we need to have some sites for industrial development because the county has to grow,” Commission Buzz Wachsteter said. “We need to go after this for the SPLOST.”
Wachsteter made reference to the former site of Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital on Division Street as a possible site for industry.
“We’ve got 120 acres inside the city that has water, sewer, electricity and rail access and there is no movement on it,” he said.
“That’s a very strategic piece of property that we need to move on and not wait around to see what the state does with it,” Bennett said.