FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — The Battery in Cobb County is considered the gold standard for a mixed-used development in the United States.
In a Channel 2 Action News exclusive, sports director Zach Klein has learned local businessman Vernon Krause plans to transform over 100 acres in Forsyth County into a mixed-use project that will actually be bigger than The Battery.
Could it attract the National Hockey League back to the metro Atlanta area?
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The project is called The Gathering at South Forsyth. The multi-year, multi-billion project will feature new restaurants, shops and residential spaces.
The crown jewel of the Gathering: a billion-dollar arena.
“Is the Gathering at South Forsyth preparing to be the home for a new National Hockey League team in our state?” Klein asked.
“That’s not something that I can guarantee at this point. What I can say about it is that you know, we are positioning this development to be able to host something of that nature, as well as, you know, all of the other things that you might go down to the Benz for,” Forsyth County commissioner Laura Semanson told Klein.
The team behind the Gathering at South Forsyth is led by Krause, who currently owns and operates 15 car dealerships across the Southeast. Krause scouted several locations in Fulton and Cobb counties before Forsyth County leaders suggested the south Forsyth area.
Forsyth County leaders say they are Georgia’s fastest-growing county this century. Between 2000 and 2019, Forsyth County grew by 132% compared to a 27% population growth rate for all of Georgia, according to U.S. Census data.
Semanson said Krause is passionate about making this project work for the growing community.
“He’s a very energetic person. And he’s got to get it done attitude. So I have every, every reason to believe that this is going to turn out to be an amazing project.”
More than 15 years ago, a site at the intersection of Union Hill Road and Ronald Reagan Boulevard was zoned as a regional mall.
The county agreed to infrastructure updates, including extending Ronald Reagan Blvd, widening McGinnis Ferry Road and building a new exit ramp off Georgia 400.
“Even with the old plan, there were five ingress and egress points already to the site that were planned. Plus, we’re working with GDOT to have some dedicated lane for that,” Semanson said. “So we’ll manage traffic. So we’ll have less impact on our local roads, and thoroughfares, it’ll be easier for people to navigate on and off 400 to get to and from the project.”
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The Gathering at South Forsyth spaces will combine for 2.4 million square feet compared to the Battery’s 2.25 million square feet. The figure includes 1.6 million square feet of commercial and retail space, a 7,500-square-foot fire station, a 100,000-square-foot community center, two different hotels and residential units.
It will also have a 750,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art indoor arena that is bigger than State Farm Arena and will have a capacity of more than 18,000 seats.
“It will have every amenity that you would expect from a modern arena. It will be built to be very fan-friendly. The guest amenities will be second to none. And it’ll be a very interactive space with a plaza out in front and just very welcoming kind of area,” said Carl Hirsch, managing partner of Stafford Sports.
Stafford Sports is a sports consulting firm representing Krause on the project.
According to the firm’s website, it previously consulted on projects for Madison Square Garden in New York City, T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Bridgestone Arena in Nashville and Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, all of which are homes to current NHL teams.
“Carl, is the arena being built with the sole purpose of bringing an NHL team to town?” Klein asked.
“No, the arena is being built as an entertainment hub for North Georgia. It is being built to be self-sustaining without any professional sports tenants,” Hirsch said. “However, we would love to have a professional sports tenant, if and when one becomes available.”
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Klein asked Semanson if she believes the project would succeed without a permanent sports team. Semanson said Krause and the developers are taking a gamble, but have strong beliefs in the project.
“They believe in Forsyth County. They believe in their ability to attract the type of entertainment that it takes. I believe that the numbers have already been run in terms of what that would look like, without having a national franchise here. And the numbers still work. So, it’s all the better if we do get a national franchise, but that’s not something that we’re focused on right now.”
“But you believe if you build it, they will come?” Klein asked.
“We believe that they build it, everyone will come,” she said.
The Gathering at South Forsyth is expected to cost north of $2 billion and will take three to four years to complete once the groundbreaking happens. The next step is for the project to be introduced at a Forsyth County Commission work session on April 25 at 2 p.m.
Klein reached out to Anson Carter, a co-owner of the Atlanta Gladiators minor league hockey team. The Gladiators play at Gas South Arena in Duluth, less than 20 miles away from the Gathering at South Forsyth’s planned location.
Carter is also a broadcaster for the NHL on TNT, which begins playoff coverage on Monday night.
“Shows a lot of disrespect for the hockey community to drop this tonight. The entire hockey world knows what happening tonight. It shows me a total disconnect.. that’s why hockey has failed in this community twice I’m focused on the roots, not the fruits. Best of luck to them, I’m excited for them, but it’s disappointing.”
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