It doesn’t take long on any budget story posted to our social media, the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College will be brought up. Often the tennis center will be brought up within six comments and we’ve taken to calling that phenomenon the six degrees of the Rome Tennis Center (for reference: see six degrees of separation ... or more recently six degrees of Kevin Bacon).
On a recent story about the Rome Transit Department it only took three comments before the tennis center card was played. On that note, City Manager Sammy Rich wins best use of language this week for describing the audit’s insistence the city terminate a 35 year agreement with Rome City Schools to provide buses as “cavalier.”
Not to step aside from the main point, while you may not use the bus system here, it is a frequently used and well needed resource.
The fact that a city the size of Rome has public transportation is almost an anomaly. It’s a bold statement of the health of our community as well.
Back to the tennis center.
Here are a few of the repeated comments we see on social media:
Comment: Because we’re paying for the tennis center there’s no money to pay police, pave roads or (insert other pressing public issue here).
Construction of the $11.4 million tennis center was paid for by the 2013 SPLOST. It’s a tourism attraction so when people come here to play they spend money in restaurants and fill up the hotels with a consistency unlike any other area event.
Not only is the tennis center successful in hosting local league matches as well as national ones, it’s an economic engine for the area. Using the metric of generating income as well as generating tourism dollars for the community — it’s not only paying for itself but contributing as well.
We did some math, and we’ll include the caveat here that we are journalists and not mathematicians, but this is what we came up with:
In 2017, the ACC tournament generated a minimum of $5,750 a night for hotel rooms and $1,950 a day for local restaurants. Those two figures are based solely on the teams themselves and don’t include any family or fans who also accompanied the players and coaches.
In the girls USTA 14 and under national championships — which has been here two years — we used the conservative figures of 225 players and one adult per player. There was an average of $16,800 a night spent on hotels and $6,750 a day spent at local restaurants.
By the way, each of those tournaments lasted an entire week.
Comment: The tennis center courts can’t be used by the public. Pay a nominal fee and play, just like the city tennis center courts on West Third Street.
Comment: Nobody is ever out there. USTA sanctioned league matches — and there are a lot of those — are played at the tennis center. That means that a couple of nights a week there are hundreds of people on the courts.
Comment: Only rich people play tennis. Most of the “tennis community” are people who just play tennis. While there are courts at the local country club, most of the courts in Floyd County are public, free and used by the general public. Again, reference above that there is a membership fee to use the courts at the Rome Tennis Center.
Comment: I didn’t vote for it. There was a vote. And despite the margin being pretty tight, we as voters approved the tennis center. There were a lot of public meetings for people to rally the troops against the project prior to the SPLOST list being compiled and approved.
And on and on.
The real gist of this editorial isn’t the tennis center, by the way.
It’s a call to get involved in your local government and to get educated in how that government works. Recently the city commission passed a downtown smoking ban. There were a lot of heavy-hitters in the medical community backing the smoking ban but not a lot of people at the commission meeting in opposition.
There’s been a lot of social media opposition. That’s a good way to get your group organized to show up to oppose something publicly, but in order to mount a true opposition you’ve got to show up to the meetings.
In general, unfunded mandates — as the smoking ban appears to be — fall flat somewhat. It will be interesting to see how the ordinance is enforced, and to what extent it will be enforced. We’ll see how it goes.
Onto another topic brought up recently — an ordinance to regulate sexually oriented businesses. The county had a similar fight a few years back after they passed an ordinance regulating sexually oriented businesses which would have effectively blocked an already existing businesses from continuing to operate.
Costly lawsuits ensued and they eventually settled. A similar business, not under the same name, still resides at that location. Is that a lesson or is this a different circumstance? We’ll see.
On our Facebook page at least, there are quite a few comments blasting the city. To those people, and anyone else who wants their local government to listen, you need to get involved.
Show up for the meetings. Speak to your local representatives. This call to get organized and to speak to your local government isn’t an endorsement of any of the above topics — although we’d like to see the RTD stay and our community to continue to thrive.
This is a call to get involved, be heard and know how your local government works.
Lastly, we’d like to offer a prayer for the recovery of Will Bowerman and any other local families whose children are hospitalized or ailing.