Plainly Greater Rome can’t win the game called building a Tennis Center of Georgia this way. Since it can’t replace as judge the nearly blind General Assembly and governor too busy waddling around with the other state fat boys to be able to exercise vision, maybe it is time for Greater Rome’s tennis interests to pick up their ball and racquet, move to their own court and let the fans in the stands make the calls.
The third time definitely wasn’t the charm as state leaders/legislators once again saw insufficient value in helping out, with $7.2 million in bonds, a project that would put the state on the tennis map big-time (largest facility in the country) with a $18.7 million, 82-court project that could assure Rome, already a tournament magnet, of up to 35 multi-day events a year with an estimated economic impact of $28 million.
One supposes that if some elected state genius didn’t think of it first that means it can’t be a good idea. Yet one would have thought that this would have been the least the state could offer as amends for closing Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital and removing more than $21 million a year in payroll alone from local economic activity.
COMPOUNDING this problem is that this area’s legislative delegation has for some years had so little of the all-important “clout” in state deliberations and politics that sending these lightweights to Atlanta to try to win this match was sort of like figuring they could beat John Isner with a badminton racquet.
Nonetheless, Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, was quite correct in the aftermath of another shellacking in saying, “It’s an excellent project and I hope people will not give up on it.” Unfortunately, while the bugles of retreat have not been sounded it already seems like they’ve ceased to sound “Charge!”
Even as the leaders of the 600-member Coosa Valley Tennis Association reaffirmed support for the center they clearly circled the wagons to fend off possible loss of gains already made, pointing out the need for still more new courts and the resurfacing of many others to keep overall quality at a level where existing state/regional play will continue to come here.
It may not be $28 million a year but tennis “tourism” with its lodging, meals, shopping already brings in perhaps half of Greater Rome’s estimated $6-million-plus in sports-related visitation.
THE ACTIVE local players of the CVTA, also threatened by having the county turn out lights to cut costs at Etowah and Alto Park courts, have a point ... but then so would the toddlers who are seeing the Recreation Authority dismantling worn-out playgrounds because they can’t afford replacement equipment. Welcome to the real world in an era of “no new taxes” even as light bills and similar zoom ... and poor spending decisions are alike made by not only the government but such as the CVTA.
For example, the recreation folks just accepted a $44,582 low bid to resurface 16 courts at the existing downtown tennis center. At the same time, the consortium of public/private entities pushing for the big new tennis center on 30 acres already donated by Berry College, and having itself accumulated $5.5 million for the venture, has spent at least a quarter of a million dollars on their sales pitch to a state government plainly not interested. That’s enough right there to resurface about 80 courts ... or roughly every one in the vicinity.
Last year, when the partners in this venture (the Rome and Floyd governments, Berry College, the Greater Rome Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce, the CVTA and the U.S. Tennis Association putting in varied amounts) decided to spend yet another $55,000 annual retainer on the Connect South lobbying firm to “sell” this to state leaders, this newspaper pointed out that they had already up to that point shelled out $167,852 for that purpose. Not all for lobbyists, of course — the architectural renderings, nifty 3D video and similar were plainly money better spent as they let citizens visualize what would be involved.
APPARENTLY having lobbyists was a suggestion from the same state officials who have turned this down three times now. Wonder how many free meals they thus caged off Greater Rome interests in the process? By the way, don’t voters “hire” elected officials to carry such messages?
Without further belaboring a point that most citizens should find true to the point of irritation, there’s zero reason to quit on the Tennis Center of Georgia. It is no more a “dream” than other clearly beneficial local enhancements accomplished without a dime of state money.
As Mrs. Dempsey was quick to remind constituents who expected too much from a state that has consistently shown it believes Floyd County is located in Alabama, both SPLOST funding (special-purpose, local-option sales tax such as built the home of the Rome Braves) and even private investors are more realistic routes. Always have been, lobbyists or not.
Indeed, had the tennis center been on the just-defeated SPLOST referendum that offered nothing other than what normal, not-special taxes should provide (repair, maintenance, equipment replacement) it might well have passed. It should be on the next referendum for which citizen committee planning should already be well under way.
THAT’S THE ROUTE that must be pursued — certainly not toning down the effort or pushing it into the background. Pretty much everything Greater Rome has gained, added, improved, attracted by way of new and better for more than 20 years it has accomplished by itself and in spite of being located in a state that barely seems to know it exists.
It would be wise to remember that.
As for resurfacing those existing tennis courts ... demand a refund from those lobbyists. They sold a product they couldn’t deliver.