Gwinnett enters negotiations to finalize tennis center development

The site of the Stone Mountain Tennis Center, which hosted events during Atlanta's 1996 Olympics, has now been cleared. TYLER ESTEP / tyler.estep@ajc.com
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The site of the Stone Mountain Tennis Center, which hosted events during Atlanta's 1996 Olympics, has now been cleared. TYLER ESTEP / tyler.estep@ajc.com

A Main Street project like one that opened last year in Peachtree Corners may soon be coming to the south part of Gwinnett County.

Commissioners this week agreed to negotiate with Fuqua Development to build a mixed-use center on the long-abandoned Olympic Tennis Center site near Stone Mountain. Jeff Fuqua, the firm’s principal, said he envisions something similar to the Town Center project that opened in Peachtree Corners in the spring of 2019.

“That area doesn’t have anything like that,” Fuqua said of the U.S. 78 corridor, where Gwinnett borders DeKalb County. “It should attract a fair amount of attention, I should say.”

Fuqua was one of two bidders for the project, which intends to revitalize 26 acres that laid dormant following the 1996 Olympics. Gwinnett in 2016 swapped land with the Stone Mountain Memorial Association Board of Directors to acquire the property, then tore down the structure in 2018.

After getting initial proposals from six developers, the county is now entering negotiations about the project. Fuqua said he anticipates luxury apartments, a grocery store and more than 30,000 square feet of other retail space. He said he’d like to have a place for affordable senior housing to be built in the future. And the project will have green space in the center.

“People really like that stuff,” he said.

Fuqua estimated it would be a $100 million project that would take 18 months to build, once negotiations are complete.

He expects the plan to evolve as county leaders weigh in. But both he and the county expect it to be a catalyst project for the area.

“Commercially, not a lot has happened there,” Fuqua said. “This will trigger something.”

Chaz Lazarian, the managing director of second-place bidder Insignia, said he was glad a local developer would be in charge of the area. Fuqua, he said, has “definitely done some amazing projects” and the development will improve the area by an order of magnitude.

Some of Fuqua’s other projects include the retail portion of The Battery at Truist Park and The Exchange @ Gwinnett near the Mall of Georgia, which is currently under development.

Paired with work Snellville is doing on its downtown, it and the tennis center project will create bookends that can help improve the area, Lazarian said.

“It gives affirmation that the area is not dead,” he said. “The area is doing well and it’s going to get better from there. It will start spilling over.”

The tennis center project is about half a mile from an Amazon warehouse that was completed this fall. Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said the amenities would be used by about 1,000 Amazon workers.

Jim Brooks, the executive director of the Evermore Community Improvement District, said he hopes that plan includes a transit component to make access easier. Gwinnett voters last month rejected a proposed transit expansion plan by a narrow margin, the second time in two years they did so.

Brooks said the area was “a target-rich environment” for redevelopment, with some land in the area worth more than the buildings that are on them. He said he expects the mixed-use project to be a catalyst that creates “dynamic change” throughout the whole region.

After seeing other proposals fall apart over the years, Brooks said he’s optimistic that the county’s role will ensure success.

This is the first time the county has acquired property to sell to a developer with conditions attached to stimulate growth.

“I’m ecstatic,” Brooks said. “This is not the last project you’ll hear about that’s going down there.”

Commissioners had intended to name a winning proposal earlier this year, but a decision was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Fuqua said he didn’t expect to make any changes to the proposal as a result of the disease.

While Brooks said he hopes the design includes a monument to the site’s Olympic past, Fuqua said he did not yet know how the area’s origins as a tennis center might be memorialized. Lazarian’s bid included public pickleball courts, he said.

“I would hope it’s permanently remembered,” Brooks said.