Developers announced plans Wednesday to transform a grassy field near Stonecrest Mall into a $200 million sports complex that they say will be swarming with amateur and pro athletes playing soccer, football, baseball and other sports.
Construction on Atlanta Sports City is set to begin this fall and will eventually include a 15,000 seat stadium, 22 soccer and football fields, seven baseball diamonds and five basketball courts.
The 200-acre sports center, located along I-20 in the new city of Stonecrest, will be the second-largest facility of its kind in the southeast, behind only the 220-acre Disney ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando.
Businessmen leading the massive project say it will provide a much-needed facility for regional youth sports tournaments. It also could become a venue for men’s and women’s professional soccer teams.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Patrick Henderson, CEO of Atlanta Sports Connection, the company that will own and operate the complex. “We’ve found a home for many, many years to come.”
With the first soccer fields scheduled to open by the end of this year, Atlanta Sports Center will be the latest of several major athletic facilities coming online in 2017. The Atlanta Braves are moving into SunTrust Park in Cobb County this year, and the Atlanta Falcons’ will start playing next season in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta.
The Atlanta Sports City complex is expected to draw 3 million visitors annually with a $197 million economic impact, according to a study by the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government.
Besides sporting fields, the site also includes a sports medicine center, extreme sports area and nearly 339,000 square feet of retail space.
It could create nearly 2,000 permanent jobs and become the premier destination for sports and entertainment in the southeast, said James Tsismanakis, executive director for Discover DeKalb.
“This will be one of the biggest tourism products and sports products — not just in the city of Stonecrest, not just in DeKalb, but in all of metro Atlanta and all of the South,” he said.
Soon, two professional sports teams will announce they’ll play at the site, said Trey Brantley, CEO of First Team SC. A men’s soccer team could move there in 2018, and he hopes for a women’s team in 2019.
Separately, Atlanta United FC is preparing to start its first Major League Soccer season at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium this year.
The Atlanta area has lacked a venue with enough soccer fields to host major tournaments that attract teams from around the nation, said Greg Griffith, executive director for the Georgia Soccer Association.
“Ask any soccer person around here in the Atlanta metro area: What’s the biggest thing keeping them from growing?” Griffith said. “Fields. There aren’t enough fields. Look around. We’re going to have a lot of fields. This is going to be awesome.”
In all, Atlanta Sports City will be equipped to handle 22 sports, including lacrosse, martial arts, volleyball, cheerleading and more. Construction could be completed in 2020.
Vaughn Irons, the developer for the project, said the newly founded city of Stonecrest is primed for the economic growth that was promised when voters supported creating the municipality in November.
“This goes to show the city is ready and prepared,” said Irons, the CEO of Atlanta Partners for Development. “They had their finger on the pulse of what business is needed.”
Irons said no tax abatement has been sought for the project.
When the city of Stonecrest starts up after its first elections March 21, Atlanta Sports City will be a centerpiece the municipality can build around, said Joel Thibodeaux, chairman of a transition team for Stonecrest appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal.
“This is where we start to see our future,” he said. “This is the first vision of what we have, of what we intend to build here, not just on this site but throughout the city,” he said.
Previous plans for a soccer complex fell through.
DeKalb County’s government tried to build a practice facility for Atlanta United FC on Memorial Drive, but that effort failed because an old landfill created the potential for an uneven playing surface. The soccer team then decided to locate its training grounds in Marietta.
Developers also previously looked into Chamblee as a location for a sports complex. The Stonecrest site provides more land than other areas that had been considered.
Along with fields and training grounds, developers also envision restaurants, hotels, shops and trails.