ITF Georgia Open

In this file photo from March 13, courts were full at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College for the Georgia Open Wheelchair Tennis Championships. Several tournaments have already played out on the Berry courts this year / Doug Walker

Rome officials expect to have $5 million in hand by May 6 to pay for the addition of an indoor court facility at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College.

City commissioners approved on Monday the sale of $7.2 million in municipal bonds to fund the six-court building and refinance the remaining $2 million in bond debt for Stonebridge Golf Club.

That will save about $130,000 without extending the Stonebridge debt payments, which nearly covers the various fees associated with the bond-issue, according to attorney Bill Camp with Gray Pannell & Woodward LLP. The interest rate will fluctuate through the final payment in 2033, he said, but the rate averages out to 2.25 percent.

“At the 10-year mark you have the option to pay it off early or refinance,” Camp told the board.

Finance Director Sheree Shore said the city already has debt service in its budget, to the tune of $685,000 a year.

Bonds financing the West Third Street property, now sold to the Courtyard by Marriott, were paid off last year. Annual payments on the new bonds will run slightly less at first, Shore said, “and by 2024 it drops below $600,000.”

Construction could start as early as next month so the courts will be ready for the Atlantic Coast Conference tennis championships in April 2020.

City Manager Sammy Rich said it was always clear that indoor courts would be needed to attract world-class tournaments.

The 60-court facility was built on land donated by Berry College and an influx of $11.4 million from the 2013 SPLOST.

But the special purpose, local option sales tax money wasn’t enough to fund the covered courts required by major tournaments in case of rain.

“The silver lining is that we’re not having to come up with new debt money,” Rich pointed out. “This won’t keep us from doing anything else.”

Berry College President Steve Briggs attended the board’s caucus session to show support for the move. He said the tennis center, which opened in July 2016, has surpassed expectations. But to build on it, indoor courts are needed, he added.

“The college doesn’t benefit directly, but the impact on the community certainly has been obvious,” Briggs said.