Fairburn to get regional baseball/softball complex


Play ball! The Fairburn City Council Monday night on a 4-2 vote approved a resolution that gives the Fairburn Development Authority to ability to execute a Letter of Intent to issue $11 million in revenue bonds for use in a public/private partnership that will establish the Georgia Academy’s Championship Fields baseball and softball complex on Ga. Highway 92 on the city’s south side. The annual economic impact of the regional facility is expected to be in the multiple millions of dollars.

City administrator Jim Williams on Tuesday said the council’s vote authorized a series of steps that will likely take two or more months to work through.  For their part, Championship Fields/Georgia Academy partners Bill Killmeier and Ron Marcotte said they expect to have the details, including items such as arrangements on concessions, worked out in the next 2-4 months with a construction period of approximately 12 months to follow.

Killmeier said the Peachtree City-based Georgia Academy is the operational entity of the Championship Fields complex.

The baseball/softball complex to be located on Spence Road (Ga. Highway 92) south of Oakley Industrial Boulevard will be outfitted with a 390-foot old-time Signature Field ball field and bleachers, a second 390-foot tournament field with bleachers, concessions and a 20,000 square-foot indoor training facility that will also house a pro shop and is expected to include Georgia Academy’s corporate offices. Continued expansion of the Spence Road site is expected to see the additional of two, 240-foot fields and a 300-foot field.

Once operational, the complex is expected to draw both team and tournament play from across metro Atlanta and beyond. The complex is expected to draw upwards of 70,000 visitors per year to Fairburn, fill more than 20,000 hotel rooms and provide approximately 100 full-time and part-time jobs. Plans also include the provision of scholarship and summer jobs for Fairburn youth.

The projected economic benefits of having team and tournament play in Fairburn was also noted by Ripken Baseball consultant Dan Taylor in a presentation to the council in March when he said it was conceivable that the city would see an annual multi-million dollar impact in double digits.

The council’s 4-2 vote was preceded by a lengthy discussion with bond attorney Earl Taylor and investment banker Bill Johnston over the many specifics of the proposal that had been carried over from earlier this year. Taylor noted that the 30-year term of the bond could be paid off in a shorter period.

The Letter of Intent calls for proceeds from the facility paying off the bond debt, with any profit over $200,000 being split equally between the operator and the city.

Also having their say were a large number of Fairburn residents who had packed the council chambers for the agenda item. Residents were evenly split on both sides of the issue.

Those opposed to the project took turns reading from a prepared script, citing numerous objections to the sports complex. Central to their objection was the potential that the Development Authority, and by extension the city, would have to make good on the bond payments if the project failed.

Those in favor of the project included residents, local business owners and baseball and softball coaches who said the need for such a regional facility was obvious. Restaurant owner Anna Reed told the council that her young relative had to travel to Marietta to play tournament ball.

Councilwoman and former Development Authority member Barkley Russell during the discussion said that Fairburn needed to diversify its economic base, noting that bringing families to the community for team and tournament play involving their children would serve as an economic generator.

The lengthy discussion ended with a motion to authorize the Development Authority to move ahead with the Letter of Intent to issue the $11 million bond.

The vote on the issue was 4-2, with council members Russell, Marian Johnson, Scott Vaughan and Ron Alderman casting votes for the measure and council members Elizabeth Hurst and Alex Heath opposed.