Billed as “revolution in sports,” the 1,200-acre site in Emerson will again be the home of cheers and ovation beginning in 2014 as an estimated 4 million visitors flock to the multi-sport complex each year.
Gov. Nathan Deal was in attendance for the groundbreaking ceremony, joining a number of special guests, including project partners Bobby Cox, Fredi Gonzalez and Ned Yost of Major League Baseball, olympic athletes, and various state and local officials.
Speakers at Thursday’s event spoke excitedly of the project’s future and reflected on the steps which brought them to this point. Described as an idea that began on the back of a paper napkin, partner and co-CEO of LakePoint Sports Earl Erhart shared how he envisioned a better way to host travel-league baseball tournaments, which led him to approach the project’s cornerstone tenant, Perfect Game USA. That partnership then led to the addition of LB3 Lacrosse and NASA Soccer associations, increasing the project’s size and scope.
“I was traveling in baseball with my sons and thought, ‘there has to be a better way,’” Erhart said. “We started talking about this idea for a complex where kids could come and stay and play and showcase their skills — and from that, LakePoint began.
“This isn’t a build it and they’ll come proposition. This is a business model that says, not ‘we wish, we hope, we think.’ We know that the Perfect Game company plays 88,000 plus boys all over this country and they have millions of athletes playing in these tournaments. We have long-term leases with these companies. We have great associations with some of the top sports companies in the country.”
Thursday’s groundbreaking also brought announcements of new tenants and partners. Coca-Cola has signed on as the exclusive beverage provider of LakePoint and will construct the company’s first sports medicine and hydration laboratory. Also joining the growing list of tenants and amenities is the Dr. James Andrews Institute for Orthopedics & Sports Medicine.
Those speaking Thursday often cited the spirit of cooperation and teamwork evident in the group of partners working to build the LakePoint campus. Former Braves general manager and Bartow County resident Cox went as far as to suggest this team may be the best he has ever been on. Recognition and gratitude was expressed toward local leadership, including Bartow County Commissioner Clarence Brown and Commissioner-Elect Steve Taylor, whom received a standing ovation from a crowd of some 800 guests.
Neal Freeman, a partner with LakePoint Sports Development, echoed those thoughts on teamwork and contributed the project’s success to the faith of those involved.
“This truly is a special team with a special purpose working on a special project. The leader of our team is our Lord and savior. Without God’s guidance and leadership, we don’t get here today,” Freeman said. “And the rest of our team is a wonderful, collaborative collection of corporations and individuals all with their own individual expertise woking together for a unified purpose and that unified purpose is to create the premiere sports tournament vacation destination where people’s lives will be positively enhanced physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.”
While partnerships with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Miracle League speak to one aspect of the project’s potential impact, Emerson Mayor Al Pallone spoke at Thursday’s event about a need he sees daily in Bartow County — jobs. Projected to create 2,500 jobs upon completion, LakePoint is estimated to support upwards of 25,000 jobs after buildout.
“This area has been struggling with unemployment — over 9 percent for an extended period of time — and the jobs are going to be tremendous,” Pallone said. “We had the town hall meeting a year and a half ago and people were asking, ‘when can we get jobs?’ Obviously, it takes a long time to do these type things, a lot of things had to happen, but people are hungry for jobs.”
Governor Deal also made a case for the project’s economic impact, pointing to state and national figures for the tourism industry.
“I wanted to share some things this morning that put in perspective how important facilities of this type are, to not only the state and local community from the standpoint of jobs and tax revenue, but also from the standpoint of the young people who will be participating here. I’m told this may be the largest sports complex of its type in the world when it is completed and that is a great distinction to have in the state of Georgia,” Deal said. “Tourism is one of the things that is an important ingredient in the growth and the economy of the state of Georgia. ... During last year, for example, in the state of Georgia, tourism was responsible for more than $49 billion of total economic impact. It generated $2.6 billion in state and local taxes and, of course, the federal government got more than that.
“The dollars that will be generated here will not only be for the benefit of the local community, they will benefit the entire state of Georgia. We know that currently tourism employs about 400,000 Georgians in our current makeup and this facility will be a huge impact to increase those numbers.”
Freeman, lead project developer, asked guests to take a virtual tour of the project. Through a verbal description of some of the park’s amenities, he led guests of Thursday’s ceremony through a layout of LakePoint Sports. Bordered by U.S. Highway 41 to the west and Interstate 75 to the east, LakePoint covers more than 1,200 acres beginning at Red Top Mountain Road and extends south past Old Allatoona Road.
Visitors will enter LakePoint from the north to be greeted by LakePoint Rocks, a retail and entertainment center with 14 movie screens and 16 restaurants. To the east, will be a water park and across the street atop a ridge will be a golf academy, driving range and par-3 golf course. Heading south, guests enter a sports retail village with a Rawlings super store and a Braves clubhouse store. Perfect Game Baseball then commands attention with 16 major-league sized baseball fields, including a 2,000-seat stadium. Further south will be “hotel row,” a collection of five hotels bordered by five multi-purpose fields, the home of LB3 Lacrosse and NASA Soccer.
A bridge will cross Old Allatoona Road revealing Terminus Wake Park, the largest cable-pulled wakeboard park in the country. Nearby will be an educational tourist attraction called MiniAmerica. To the east will be a track and field facility and a 100,000 square-foot indoor facility for volleyball, basketball, cheerleading and wrestling. The same building will hold the Powerade Sports and Hydration Lab and the Dr. James Andrews Sports Medicine Research Institute. Further south will be 16 smaller fields for girls fast-pitch softball and 13-and-under boys baseball.
At LakePoint’s southern end will be a 300-acre park with trails for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. Near the trailhead will be a ropes course, zip lines and miniature golf joined by a major outdoor retailer.
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