LakePoint Sports to build 'one-of-a-kind' complex
by Jessica Loeding
Dec 17, 2010 | 35077 views | 0 0 comments | 157 157 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Neal Freeman and Judy Sparks, partners with LakePoint Sports Development Group, make a presentation to the news media describing Dream Parks’ multi-use playing fields. 
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Neal Freeman and Judy Sparks, partners with LakePoint Sports Development Group, make a presentation to the news media describing Dream Parks’ multi-use playing fields. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Emerson's got game -- almost $1 billion worth.

LakePoint Sports Development Group announced today it will construct a mixed-use complex in southern Bartow County. Situated on 1,380 acres between Interstate 75 and Highway 41, the project will feature sports fields, entertainment facilities, retail shops, restaurants, hotels and educational campuses when complete.

The core of the development, which features three miles of frontage along I-75 including the Red Top Mountain and Emerson-Allatoona interchanges, is a 260-acre sports complex with 16 Major League Baseball-sized fields, 12 soccer and lacrosse fields and a 100,000-square-foot indoor sports facility.

Judy Sparks with LakePoint Sports said the group is conservatively estimating 2,000 jobs. Once complete, that number could increase to 4,000.

"The first phase..., which includes all the fields, putting in all the infrastructure, building this 100,000-square-foot building ... [but] does not include hotels or scout towers, is $160 million. ... We haven't really broken it down [to a number of phases]. It's more of a first phase and a next phase. If we are blessed that it all comes together, it will just be two phases. The market's going to dictate that, but it will be more than one phase," according to Neal Freeman with LakePoint Sports.

Freeman said the overall build-out could touch a billion dollars.

Work is estimated to begin in April should the development process proceed as planned. The group is expected to file its Development of Regional Impact paperwork Monday.

"Developments of Regional Impact are large-scale developments that are likely to have regional effects beyond the local government jurisdiction in which they are located. The Georgia Planning Act of 1989 authorized the Department of Community Affairs to establish procedures for review of these large-scale projects," according to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. "These procedures are designed to improve communication between affected governments and to provide a means of revealing and assessing potential impacts of large-scale developments before conflicts relating to them arise. At the same time, local government autonomy is preserved since the host government maintains the authority to make the final decision on whether a proposed development will or will not go forward."

Freeman said the DRI ends around April 11 and the goal is break ground by the end of that month, adding that partners are hopeful the first pitch will be tossed out in June 2012.

Emerson a 'phenomenal' site

Talk began more than three years ago about a project like LakePoint Sporting Community & Town Center, but six months ago, all the pieces fell into place.

"It's like the stars all aligned recently," Sparks said, adding that Freeman had identified Emerson as a possible location several years ago.

Location was important, and Bartow County proved promising, especially with partner former Atlanta Braves Manager Bobby Cox having a home here.

"This site is phenomenal, with three miles of interstate frontage and two interchanges. One, from an infrastructure standpoint, it can support the demand that will be drawn here. Two, there is a close emotional relationship between Bobby Cox and this area. It's just simply beautiful up here and perfect for what we are trying to create as that ultimate youth sports destination and family experience ... I don't think we could recreate that experience inside metro Atlanta," Sparks said during a Tuesday interview.

Along with Cox, partners include Ned Yost, formerly with the Braves and now manager of the Kansas City Royals, and current Atlanta Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez.

Featuring such heavy-hitters from the world of baseball, it's no surprise a large part of the project focuses on the 16 baseball fields.

The field closest to the master entrance will feature stadium seating for up to 7,500, with 2,500 behind home plate and the ability to seat 5,000 in the outfield.

Outfitted with more than 3 million square feet of synthetic turf produced by Shaw's Sportexe division, the sports fields will become the largest synthetic complex in the world. Sportexe also will use the complex as its international showroom. The 20,000-seat soccer stadium will feature a field covered with a hybrid of part turf, part grass.

"One of the goals we have as developers is to build a very sustainable and environmentally friendly complex," Sparks said of the technology, such as hybrid turf, being used inside the development.

Unlike other fields built around the country, Sparks and Freeman said LakePoint will bring tournaments and showcases upon arrival instead of building without a promise of them being used.

Perfect Game USA, billed as the world's largest baseball scouting service, will consolidate all of its Eastern seaboard tournaments and showcases to the Emerson location.

According to representatives of LakePoint Sports, Perfect Game has been the largest occupier of hotel rooms in Cobb County, averaging between 28,000 and 35,000 hotel rooms during the five-week tournament hosted in East Cobb.

"Again, it helps to have that proven model. Versus hoping they will come, we have eight years of data that proves they definitely will come," Freeman said.

Along with Perfect Game, the North Atlanta Soccer Association's existing operation out of Cobb County is expanding to LakePoint, and LB3 lacrosse, founded by two-time All-American Syracuse lacrosse player Liam Banks, tournaments will relocate to Emerson.

The indoor sports facility will allow LakePoint to move training indoors for soccer, lacrosse and baseball, and will provide space for volleyball, basketball, cheerleading, gymnastics and wrestling.

Describing the development as being similar to Disney's Wide World of Sports, Sparks said LakePoint will stand alone in its class.

"This will be a one-of-a-kind facility that we know of in the world. ... We are convinced it's a unique concept," she said.

Economic, infrastructure impact to be felt in

Emerson, county

With a projected visitation of 3 million people per year, LakePoint will change the face of Bartow County and Emerson.

"LakePoint will impact not only Emerson but the county as a whole. Starting from the construction phase, this project will be a major job creator," said Emerson Mayor Al Pallone. "Once established, this facility will not only provide jobs to support the sports complex [but] it will continue to be a job creator as hotels, restaurants and other retailers come to take advantage of the people being drawn by the complex. It will provide revenue in several forms, starting with jobs but also SPLOST and LOST revenue followed soon by revenue from hotel/motel taxes."

Despite the economic downturn, Freeman said indicators were positive for a development of this nature.

"One of the things I found interesting is in the worst economy ever last year ... all of our generators -- the lacrosse, the soccer and the baseball -- all experienced increases of over 7 percent last year, which told us that people are still spending on their families, they're still spending on their children even in the face of this economy," he said.

Melinda Lemmon, Executive Director of the Cartersville-Bartow County Department of Economic Development, said officials are still working through what business incentives may be offered LakePoint Sports.

"We are working through 'what are the needs of the development?' This one is a little bit different. [We are] exploring some tools that the state has that may benefit the project, things like opportunity zones, or tax allocation district, a number of incentive type tools. ... We are still trying to put a puzzle together if you will," Lemmon said, adding that a property tax abatement or phase in was a possibility.

With most of the development falling within Emerson's city limits -- two small annexations will be required -- the city has begun taking steps to prepare for such an enormous economic impact.

"As this growth happens, Emerson is attempting to be proactive with a more comprehensive set of zoning ordinances. The hotel/motel tax will allow us to obtain funds to help us provide services to the development without making the current citizens of Emerson having to pay the bill. We will work with LakePoint ... to the greatest extent possible to assure that it does not cause major disruptions," Pallone said.

The working relationship is important not only to city officials but LakePoint and county representatives.

Lemmon said she was excited to share the news of a "good, clean kind of economic development" with the public after months of silence.

"I was excited about the project because it adds to the economic diversity we have in Bartow County," she said. "We want individual companies to feel welcome, nurtured."

For Freeman, the goal of balancing mission and margin is essential.

"Our mission is to promote a healthier youth while creating an unparalleled economic impact for the local community. We are about the same purpose, creating a healthier youth," he said.

"We'd like to keep the people here for as long as they are here in the metro area. Neal [Freeman] describes our development like its a cruise ship, we want everything to be self-contained," Sparks said. "But, should they decide to leave the ship, then they could easily visit the Tellus Museum, the Booth Western museum or even go down to Atlanta and see some of the sights down there.

"We want to be here in this community for a long time, to be a good neighbor, to partner with the municipality here, with the county, your local school district. We want to become a part of this community."