Just as Rome and Floyd County were split over support of the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College in the 2013 SPLOST package, officials expressed in a good-natured way a difference of opinion over the role of the complex during dedication ceremonies Friday.
“It’s all about economic impact; it’s not about tennis,” said Rome City Manager Sammy Rich. A few minutes later, United States Tennis Association Executive Director Gordon Smith, a native Roman, poked back: “To me, it’s all about the tennis.”
Once the dedicatory speeches were completed, wheelchair tennis players took to the courts to begin play in the annual Rome Clocktower Classic Wheelchair tournament, which continues through the weekend.
“There’s no way this should be happening,” said Berry College President Stephen Briggs, commenting on the somewhat precarious nature of the project when it began.
He said that more than once over the last eight years he thought the project was dead in the water.
“Savor this moment,” Briggs said. Berry College donated the tennis center property to the city.
Rich pointed out that earlier this month the first tournament at the 60-court complex brought more than 700 junor players to the complex.
“You could ride though the parking lot and see car tags from everywhere except Floyd County. That’s why we built the tennis center,” Rich said.
He told the large crowd on hand for the dedication that it seems like he had been working on the tennis center project his entire career.
After failing to gain any support for the economic development project from the Georgia General Assembly, Rich said that it ultimately came down to Floyd County residents making the decision that if the tennis center was going to become a reality that the community would have to pay for it.
Rome-Floyd SPLOST Citizens Advisory Committee Chairman David Newby also addressed the crowd, saying the committee chose the project for its economic rewards.
The 2013 SPLOST, which provided $11.9 million for the center, passed by only 84 votes.
“Less than a handful of communities (across the entire country) come close to having what you have here,” Smith told the crowd.
He said that just Thursday he was at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in New York where the U.S. Open will be played in about a month. “It has half the courts of this complex,” Smith said.
He recalled learning to play tennis in Rome at the age of 11 on, “four pathetic asphalt courts next to Barron Stadium.”
The official’s dedication ceremonies Friday night followed a full day of activity at the complex on the Armuchee Connector.
“This took real vision,” Smith told a much smaller crowd during a press conference Friday morning. “This is a tremendous day for Rome.”
Rome was already known in the tennis community, Smith said, but the new tennis courts will place the city on another level.
“We want to be something for everybody,” RTC Executive Director Tom Daglis said.
During the evening event, Daglis introduced Taylor Buchholz as the new head tennis professional at the RTC. Buchholz comes to Rome from Suwannee, Georgia, after finishing his collegiate career at Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Staff Writer Blake Doss contributed to this report.