In this July 19, 2016, photo, the derelict netting and scoreboard in the background on a tennis court stand at the Stone Mountain Tennis Center, home of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games tennis events, in Stone Mountain, Ga. The permanent tennis facility built in a corner of Stone Mountain Park quickly became a money loser and now sits idle, weeds growing through the outer courts and the scoreboard in disrepair. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Rundown venue from ‘96 Olympics now one step closer to demolition

The decision to demolish the Stone Mountain Tennis Center was not arrived at lightly, Gwinnett County Commissioner John Heard said Tuesday.

The 7,200-seat, 15-court venue did, after all, bear witness to world-class competition during Atlanta’s 1996 Summer Olympics. American legend Andre Agassi won gold there. So did Lindsay Davenport.

But the arena has been around for two post-Olympics decades now — and it’s “been running down that entire time,” Heard said.

The 24-acre property near Bermuda Road and U.S. 78, just inside county lines, is now surrounded by chained link fences and barbed wire. Grass has cracked through the asphalt parking lots, and trees grow wild.

“All the copper’s been stolen out of it,” Heard said. “It is a health and safety hazard right now.”

Heard and his fellow commissioners voted Tuesday afternoon to award the roughly $1 million task of demolishing the Stone Mountain Tennis Center to TOA, LLC.

County spokesman Joe Sorenson said demolition could begin by late June. The county will then “seek a private sector partner to redevelop the site through a competitive process,” Sorenson said.

Gwinnett has owned the 24-acre tennis center property, which lies just inside the county line, since only late last year. It took a land swap for the county to get its hands on the derelict venue.

In October, Gwinnett spent nearly $1.2 million to buy a 35-acre tract of land adjacent to the tennis center in DeKalb County. It then turned that property over to the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, which in turn gave the tennis center property to Gwinnett.

The Stone Mountain Memorial Association had tried for years to make the tennis center economically viable, but to no avail. For a brief stint in the early 2000s, a tennis academy tried operating out of the venue. As recently as 2012, a private developer submitted plans to use the site and surrounding property for a large-scale athletic, commercial and residential complex.

The proposal went nowhere.

Demolishing and redeveloping the property were in Gwinnett’s plans from the get-go. The main arena, which has flooding and concrete instability issues, would have cost millions to renovate.

“It’s got to come down,” Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash, who was sick and missed Tuesday’s meeting, said last year. “It’s got to be demolished.”

Commissioner Lynette Howard, whose district the tennis center lies in, said Tuesday she was so excited about the demolition contract being awarded that she could dance. She said she hears all the time from constituents who are concerned about the property.

“The thing I’m most excited about is, it’s now going to be a clean palette for [potential developers] that can’t see past the structure,” Howard said with a grin. “… I’m expecting a week after it’s all cleared out, the last brick is taken away, that all of a sudden we have a great idea there.”

In other business Tuesday, the Board of Commissioners voted to accept nearly $850,000 in grants to help fund the county’s drug, DUI, mental health and veterans court programs, which, generally speaking, help offenders get treatment and avoid jail time.

A dozen or so people also made appearances to protest Commissioner Tommy Hunter, who has been under fire since calling U.S. Rep. John Lewis a “racist pig” on Facebook in January. Protesters have attended every Board of Commissioners meeting since The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first published screenshots of Hunter’s controversial social media activity.

Hunter left Tuesday’s meeting prior to the open public comment period during which the protesters spoke.

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