Will Conyers soon be home to a new sports and entertainment district?

Dutch group’s pitch for a pro soccer complex and mix of housing, hotels and retail generates buzz east of Atlanta
This is a site map for a massive proposed soccer and mixed-use complex included within a Dec. 7, 2022 presentation to the Conyers city council.

Credit: City of Conyers

Credit: City of Conyers

This is a site map for a massive proposed soccer and mixed-use complex included within a Dec. 7, 2022 presentation to the Conyers city council.

A Dutch group’s sprawling vision for a soccer-centric, mixed-use development is generating plenty of buzz in Conyers, 30 minutes east of Atlanta.

The ambitious pitch centers around a literal pitch — a 10,000-seat soccer stadium capable of hosting a professional women’s soccer team. Apparel brand Sportiff USA, which is based in Covington, envisions a bustling district in Conyers with restaurants, hotels, condos, training facilities and various sport amenities surrounding the stadium.

The city of Conyers agreed in June to sell Sportiff roughly 287 acres near the Georgia International Horse Park, the equine sports venue built for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta.

While many of the project’s details are still up in the air, the proposal is the latest large entertainment district centered around sports poised to join Atlanta’s suburbs, following in the footsteps of the Braves venture to Cobb County and a proposed arena in Forsyth County.

“This is a pretty monumental moment here,” Conyers Mayor Vince Evans said before the City Council unanimous voted to begin the land sale to Sportiff for nearly $7.2 million.

The swath of land is located along Centennial Olympic Parkway and follows the natural border of the Yellow River. City Manager Tony Lucas said the city has owned more than 1,100 acres since the 1990s and has waited for the right project to back. The sale, Lucas said, will not affect the horse park, which plays host to about 300 events each year.

“The City Council has been very protective of that property all these years,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’ve been approached by many, many, many people over the years.”

This aerial photo shows the proposed site of a pro women's soccer complex adjacent to the Georgia International Horse Park, Thursday, June 29, 2023, in Conyers. The Yellow River is shown on left. Centennial Olympic Parkway is shown on the right. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)


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Patrick Vierhout, a businessman from the Netherlands who owns Sportiff and the East Atlanta Dutch Lions football club in Conyers, approached the city with a pitch that would capitalize on Atlanta’s status as a 2026 World Cup host city.

Though the project initially was reported in some outlets as one that could hold World Cup matches in 2026, representatives of the developer said if the complex can be completed in time for soccer’s biggest event, it is possible the site could host training events.

“We may have a training facility available for them, but relative to an actual match, heavens no,” said Tillman Douglas, the head of Atlanta Marketing Agency and a development team member.

The property sale likely won’t be finalized until near the end of the year, because Sportiff must obtain a land disturbance permit as part of the transaction. The city will also have first right of refusal if Sportiff tried to place any of the property up for sale.

Because of the project’s size, the team must file for a Development of Regional Impact (DRI) assessment, a state infrastructure report for large projects that is reviewed by the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Conyers City Planner Scott Gaither said the city needs further specifics from Sportiff before starting the DRI process. Douglas said the site plan is still being finalized, but one shown at a December council meeting included a hotel, condos, tennis and track and field complexes and an indoor arena.

In the presentation, Sportiff said it will target the National Women’s Soccer League or the United Soccer League — of which the East Atlanta Dutch Lions is a member — to establish a women’s team in Conyers. Neither league responded to a request for comment.

Sportiff plans to develop the soccer stadium, which will likely take two years to build, and an on-site manufacturing facility for its apparel. The company will lease land for the project’s other amenities and buildings.

The development is also expected to include an indoor sports complex by Spooky Nook, which operates two other warehouse-like facilities in the U.S. Spooky Nook also did not respond to a request for comment.

Vierhout, who did not grant an interview to the AJC, has not revealed his financing partners but his team said the money to fund the project is a mixture of “existing revenue and private investment.” Lucas, the city manager, said Vierhout told the council he will reveal his financial partners once the initial permitting hurdles are cleared. He added that Sportiff has not asked for any public financing or incentives.

Pro teams and stadium developers often seek public subsidies. Questions over public financing have dominated the discussion over the Gathering at Forsyth, a large mixed-use project north of Atlanta that could anchor a professional hockey team.

The development team, however, left open the possibility of seeking public support.

“At this time, we have not made any formal requests and nor are there any contingencies,” Douglas said. “However, we are exploring possible public-private partnerships and will engage where all parties see shared value.”

Lucas hinted that the city may not be receptive to doling out taxpayer funds through his criticism of the multibillion incentive packages the state has offered to electric vehicle manufacturers.

“Oh my God, the concession they get. They get free land, they get millions of dollars in tax breaks and that sort of thing,” he said. “These guys, (Sportiff) are paying for the property and they’re paying the freight.”