Atlanta United soccer team keeping Cobb site as back up for training complex if DeKalb deal falls apart

By Maria Saporta and Douglas Sams

Plans to locate the soccer training facility for the Atlanta United FC in DeKalb County might not be a done deal after all.

An official with the AMB Group – Arthur M. Blank’s group of companies – confirmed that the soccer club is reconsidering a site in Marietta in case the DeKalb deal falls apart.

The DeKalb County Commission – in a 4-to-3 vote on Aug. 4 – approved up to $12 million to support the complex, which is estimated to cost between $30 million and $35 million to build.

Arthur Blank

Arthur Blank celebrates with students after Atlanta United’s announcement in DeKalb (Photo by Maria Saporta)

The county expected to spend between $3 million and $5 million to prepare the site for the soccer training complex – including the cleaning up of contaminated soil and the demolition of up to 19 buildings on the 41-acre property near the intersection of Memorial Drive and I-285.

But it is not known whether $5 million will cover the costs of cleaning up the land and demolishing the existing buildings.

Kim Shreckengost, an executive vice president and chief administrative officer with the AMB Group, said Monday the memorandum of understanding with DeKalb County “is still in place,” and they are proceeding with due diligence, which includes soil testing.

“We made the decision to concurrently complete our land due diligence on the Marietta site (started before deciding on DeKalb), but only as a backup in the event that the due diligence process in DeKalb County does not reach a successful conclusion,” Shreckengost said. “We remain confident that we will build the Atlanta United training complex in DeKalb County.”

But it does appear that Cobb County has a shot of attracting the soccer training facility.

Atlanta United had considered dozens of sites throughout the region for its training facility, but it narrowed the list to two finalists – DeKalb and Cobb.

Atlanta United logo

Unveiling of the Atlanta United logo (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for MLS Atlanta)

A 49-acre site in Marietta that was made up of two apartment complexes on Franklin Road were being offered to the soccer franchised. According to the Marietta Daily Journal, the City of Marietta acquired the Woodlands Park apartment complex and its 24 acres for $7.8 million, and it acquired the Flagstone Village apartment complex and its 25 acres for $11.6 million.

The city bought that property to tear down the complexes and offer the land for future development. The Franklin Road corridor is a couple of highway exits north of the new Atlanta Braves facility at SunTrust Park.

In August, after getting approval from the DeKalb Commission, Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank seemed enthusiastic about bringing the training facility to DeKalb. The site is almost directly across Memorial Drive from the first Home Depot store that he and Bernie Marcus opened in June 1979.

Even more importantly, Blank stressed how key it was for the training facility to be near the MARTA rail line. The Kensington MARTA Station is nearby, and DeKalb County was to explore a possible pedestrian link between both.

Atlanta United soccer training facility

Rendering of how the Atlanta United’s soccer training facility and fields will look (Special: Atlanta United)

Burke Brennan, a spokesman for DeKalb County, said every one is waiting on the results from the soil tests, which are expected to be known by mid-October.

When the commission voted on the agreement with Atlanta United, Brennan said: “We were confident that would be an accurate figure” to prepare the site for the soccer training facility.

“If something unexpected occurs, we would have to go back before the Board of Commissioners to seek approval on additional appropriation,” Brennan said. “Barring something completely unexpected, we are proceeding according to plan.”

Atlanta United DeKalb

Rendering of proposed Atlanta United’s headquarters and training facility (Special: Atlanta United)

The soil contamination issue was brought up by the three commissioners who voted against the agreement, which did not address who would pay for the costs of cleaning up the site if it were more than $5 million.

Because the vote for the soccer complex was so close, the executives of Atlanta United may decide against going before the DeKalb Commission to ask for more funding.

Then the options would be for the Blank organization to cover the additional costs or for Atlanta United to change its mind and locate its training facility in Cobb County.

But that means Atlanta United would have to work out a deal with either the City of Marietta, Cobb County or both – and hope that the 41-acre site does not have any contaminated soil.

Atlanta United would like to have its soccer training facility open by the end of 2016 so it can begin practicing for its opening season in the spring of 2017.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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