That doesn’t mean even those of us who are sideline spectators can’t appreciate the concept for a 55-court complex that Berry College has come up with. It’s an absolute dream of an idea for both tennis enthusiasts and Greater Romans alike.
And, let’s hasten to add that this is far too early to know if the outlined joint Berry, Floyd County, Rome and tennis community venture would involve any taxpayer money at all. The benefits to everyone in the vicinity might well be worth such an investment but keep in mind: This is not only proposed for Berry-owned acreage but any college that can woo more than $100 million in gifts for its new Cage Center may well find a benefactor who can put up the possible $5 million-$10 million construction cost in exchange for it being named after them.
And the 23-acre site that Berry proposes to lease/give for the venture is right on the bend of the soon-to-be Armuchee Connector. There’s a whole lot more vacant land in the vicinity that would suddenly be hugely attractive for development as a place to live.
Tennis next door, a new huge public park with ball fields plus a municipal golf course all within a couple of minutes? And, oh yeah, the mall for shopping and a movie theater complex. “Far distant” at five minutes at most away would be State Mutual Stadium and all that’s proposed for its vicinity, not to mention the downtown being maybe seven minutes off.
WHAT’S JUST BEEN described is a very, very desirable place to live — a community with all the amenities that only needs the upscale houses to complete it. Oh, did we mention the local airport is also only about five minutes distant?
Besides, Rome/Floyd had already been kicking around the idea of a tennis complex of this size, also with clubhouse, without any mention of Berry having a role — only taxpayers. Indeed, at last report it was aimed toward the General Electric property that Rome expects to gain shortly. If it now winds up going just north of Mount Berry Square Mall, that would open up the GE acreage for other ideas — including a new location for the Coosa Valley Fairgrounds.
What Berry plainly hopes to gain from some sort of joint venture, besides even more visibility and perhaps perking up traffic to the mall (on leased Berry land) and the value of all the property it owns in that area as part of having the world’s largest college campus, is the enthusiastic support (and connections) of Rome’s super-active tennis association plus the Rome-Floyd Recreation Authority’s management experience and marketing to the many state and regional tennis groups that already come here to hold tournaments.
Berry can certainly handle selling such a complex for collegiate events, but amateur (maybe even professional) tournaments are another matter entirely. There’s already considerable public/private cooperation existing in handling big tournaments here, so why should Berry even contemplate reinventing the wheel? While the resulting tourism could have a $20 million a year impact on the local economy, which is good for merchants and tax revenues alike, Berry’s main game is and remains education.
Actually, even that would have a role in the dream complex. Berry indicated it would be glad to help operate and manage such a center through its student work program, which would do more than just defray operating overhead for the city/county. Berry is adding dorms and raising total enrollment. Given its work/study underpinning, that means it needs more “jobs” for students, particularly those in its growing business and sports-related majors.
Rome has already gained a considerable reputation as a tennis hotbed, but even the United States Tennis Association was jumping the net to congratulate a winner of an idea on this one.
According to Virgil Christian, USTA director for community tennis development, a 55-court complex in Rome — 49 outer ones surrounding a six-court championship core with spectator seating — would be the second largest in the country. The biggest now with 60 in Mobile, Ala., is a bit off the beaten path for Southeast/national events that draw from all over.
“You’d have more courts than the U.S. Open,” said Christian. That’s played at the Billie Jean King National Center in Flushing, N.Y., which has a mere 33 courts.
Given Greater Rome’s past success — and Berry’s too — in accomplishing big ideas and making impossible-sounding dreams come true this tennis center should have a good shot at becoming reality. Remember, few believed Rome could land a professional baseball team with a new stadium at the outset of that pursuit.
However, while it is never wise to count chickens before they hatch, or tennis balls before they’re served, there is already one very positive aspect to this dream scheme.
Berry President Stephen R. Briggs, in revealing the idea, stressed that “The health and vitality of our community and the quality of life here matter deeply to us. So we’re looking for ways to enhance our community. ... We also want to create a sense of excitement about the future — to show that Rome is a community that’s on the move.”
Not too many remember remember now but in Berry’s long history its relationship with its surroundings — Rome and Floyd County — have not always been the best. And vice versa, too. It was once considered a sort of land apart even though within the county and bordering the city. Shorter College, always being located smack in the middle of town, and having very close relationships with some community churches, never really had the same sort of “ivory tower” isolation.
That old Berry/Rome history is now but a distant memory except to a dwindling few. The college and local government have for some time worked together to considerable mutual benefit — the mall and Stonebridge Golf Course to name just the more continuously visible.
However, if Berry now wants to be a more active participant in the excitement that is a Greater Rome on the move, and if the community becomes a more active participant in the excitement that is a college of highest reputation that is on the move ... well, that would create an unbeatable doubles team.
Pierre-René Noth is the former editorial page editor of the Rome News-Tribune.