Saturday, June 20, 2009

Potential Partnership Could Lead to Championship-Caliber Tennis Facility

A proposed partnership between Berry College and the local community could result in the development of a championship-caliber tennis facility near Mount Berry Square Mall.

College administrators met Wednesday morning with government officials, leaders of the Rome tennis community and the Greater Rome Convention and Visitors Bureau to discuss details of the proposed complex, which would be constructed on a 23-acre tract of Berry’s river farm property. This land is part of an 80-acre parcel adjacent to Mount Berry Square that will be separated from Berry’s other property by the new Armuchee Connector.

According to Berry President Stephen R. Briggs, college officials are considering various options for the property. The tennis facility is potentially attractive for a number of reasons.

“Berry’s future is inseparable from that of Rome and Floyd County,” Dr. Briggs said. “We care deeply about the prosperity of our community and the quality of life. A facility of this type has the potential to be a great success for all involved. Potential benefits for Greater Rome would include economic development, increased tourism and visibility, higher-caliber tournaments, and, of course, a first-class facility for use by recreational players. Potential benefits for Berry include increased opportunities for students participating in our work experience program and increased visibility for the college and our athletics program.”

Berry has engaged its planning consultants to develop a conceptual layout for the proposed facility. Initial design options feature 49 outer courts configured around a central core of six “championship” courts with seating for a minimum of 360 spectators. Local tennis leaders and national organizations have suggested that a facility of this size would help make Rome an ideal location for regional and possibly even national tournaments. Only one facility in the Southeast would offer more courts, according to information provided by the United States Tennis Association Southern Section.

Lisa Smith, executive director of the Greater Rome Convention and Visitors Bureau, estimates that the economic impact of such a facility could be as much as $20 million annually.

“The possibility of a public/private relationship with Berry College would provide an outstanding opportunity for cooperative marketing of Rome and Floyd County,” Smith said. “Building on Rome’s already considerable reputation in tennis circles, the proposed facility could make Greater Rome a major tennis destination for players throughout the Southeast.”

The viability of the project is aided considerably by its location, Smith noted. The parcel is just two miles north of Turner-McCall Boulevard with direct access to downtown thanks to Riverside Parkway and the new connector (due for completion in 2011). The Armuchee Connector also would provide a direct connection to the existing trail system that runs from downtown Rome northward through Ridge Ferry Park to Ga. Loop 1 and beyond. Other major attractions in close proximity to the site include Mount Berry Square Mall and State Mutual Stadium as well as Berry’s 26,000-acre campus, Oak Hill and The Martha Berry Museum.

Under the proposal, Berry would commit the land to local governments through a long-term agreement but would retain ownership. In addition, the college would help to operate and manage the facility through its student work program, thereby providing valuable experiences for business and sports-related majors while defraying operational costs for the Rome-Floyd Parks and Recreation Authority, which would have oversight of the complex.

Richard Garland, executive director of the Rome-Floyd Parks and Recreation Authority, sees great potential in the proposed partnership and the facility that could result.

“In terms of both the design work that has already been done and the future potential of student assistance with operations and maintenance, this plan represents the most viable option we have seen for making a tennis complex of this type a reality in Rome and Floyd County,” he stated.

Berry officials share Garland’s enthusiasm.

“We are delighted to work with the city and county to explore this project’s feasibility,” Dr. Briggs said. “Berry is committed to being an active partner in fostering the future prosperity of Rome and Floyd County and enhancing the attractiveness and distinctiveness of the Greater Rome community.”

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