“We believe that if we build it, everyone will come,” Forsyth County Commissioner Laura Semanson told Channel 2. Details on the project’s financing and whether state or county financing would be involved were not immediately available.
When the Atlanta Braves developed what is now Truist Park in Cobb County, the baseball team convinced commissioners to provide $300 million in taxpayer support for the stadium. The adjacent Battery development was privately financed.
The project is the brainchild of Vernon Krause, the CEO of Krause Auto Group which owns 18 car dealerships throughout Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas. He paid $52 million in August to buy roughly a fourth of the development site along Ronald Reagan Boulevard and Union Hill Road, according to county property records.
A Monday news release said the land, which was owned by Vinings-based real estate firm Pope and Land, was zoned to become a regional mall development more than 15 years ago, but those plans never came to fruition. Krause said he aims to provide northside residents with large events rivaling Atlanta’s other professional sports developments.
“As a global entertainment hub, The Gathering at South Forsyth will provide residents, employers and visitors with the ability to see their favorite musician, experience a family-friendly ice show or eat at a James Beard-awarded restaurant without having to sit in their car for hours,” Krause said in the release.
Atlanta has twice been the home of a NHL franchise, but neither team lasted for more than 12 seasons. The Atlanta Flames played from 1972 to 1980 before moving to Calgary, Canada, while the Atlanta Thrashers operated from 1999 to 2011 before also leaving for Winnipeg.
Rumors swirled earlier this year about north Atlanta cities, namely Alpharetta, trying to woo a NHL team as the Arizona Coyotes fight to get a new stadium approved there. In March, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said his sport has no immediate plans to expand its number of teams despite interest from other cities to add a hockey franchise.
The Atlanta Gladiators, a minor league hockey team that plays at Gas South Arena in Duluth, ranked 12th out of 28 last season for attendance in the East Coast Hockey League, with an average game attracting about 4,700 attendees. Anson Carter, one of the team’s co-owners, told Channel 2 that announcing a development aimed at snagging a professional franchise on the first night of the NHL playoffs “shows a lot of disrespect for the hockey community.”
“That’s why hockey has failed in this community twice,” he continued. “I’m focused on the roots, not the fruits. Best of luck to them, I’m excited for them, but it’s disappointing.”
The idea of a huge indoor arena in the north metro area has been floated before. The then-owners of the Atlanta Hawks considered an arena in Sandy Springs in the 1990s before committing to a new arena deal to stay downtown.
Stafford Sports is a New Jersey-based consulting firm on Krause’s development team, and its managing partner Carl Hirsh told Channel 2 that the proposed Forsyth arena will have every amenity needed to support a NHL franchise — whether it’s an expansion team or a relocating franchise.
“It will have every amenity that you would expect from a modern arena,” he said. “It will be built to be very fan friendly. The guest amenities will be second to none.”
Hirsh told Channel 2 the project will move forward with or without a centerpiece hockey team.
“We are ready and happy and willing to host any professional sports team if they want to come here, and we are prepared for that,” he said. “But we are not building it with the sole idea that this will be the home of the NHL.”
It’s unclear how the development team could operate a large arena without an anchor tenant.
“The Gathering at South Forsyth will be an economic driver like no other,” Forsyth County Chairman Alfred John said in the release. However, many economists have criticized taxpayer-funded stadium deals for returning lower-than-promised returns.
Semanson told the news station the developers are “taking a gamble” on attracting a hockey team, but she said she has confidence they’ll have a compelling pitch. In addition, she said the project will “be of a similar caliber” to Avalon and Halcyon, two mixed-use projects along Ga. 400.
The Gathering at South Forsyth would require multiple infrastructure improvements to nearby thoroughfares, including an extension of Ronald Reagan Boulevard, the widening of McGinnis Ferry Road and a new Ga. 400 interchange.
On April 25, the development team will file a request for an overlay district. The zoning request will first be discussed at the county commission’s 2 p.m. work session that day. Public engagement listening sessions will begin in May.
The development team includes Dovin Ficken LLC as legal counsel, Nelson for land planning, SCI Architects for arena design, Kimley-Horn for civil engineering, Stone Planning for economic impact research and JLL for real estate advisement. More information is available at thegatheringatsouthforsyth.com.