For decades, Forsyth County has been one of the most popular places in the country to move to, and now, some local leaders are pushing for it to be a popular spot for visitors.
As part of National Travel and Tourism Week, Discover FOCO, a project by the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce to promote local tourism, hosted a panel discussion with local and state leaders and businesses to discuss the state and future of the county’s tourism industry.
“It’s exciting to see tourism take root,” said Forsyth County Commission Chairman Alfred John, a member of the panel. “Often, I’ve gone to other areas and seen our Forsyth County tags in Roswell, Alpharetta, and there’s a little bit of envy there, but we are now starting to compete.”
During the meeting, John discussed a private sports project known as Winners Circle Park, which chamber members, the county and local business leaders had referred to as “Project Homerun.”
“For the last four months, the chamber and I have been working on what [has been referred to] as Project Homerun,” John said. “It will be a 60-acre, privately-run sports-training facility. There will be nine baseball fields, about 20 or 22 pickleball courts, both indoor and outdoor, tournament-sized, a 125,000-square-foot indoor facility which will have basketball courts, volleyball courts, sports training and physical fitness.”
According to a video released by Discover FOCO, the project will open in Spring 2023, will include a hotel and town center with retail and restaurants and will create over 500 full-time jobs. The private park is planned along Peachtree Parkway, Brookwood and Caney roads and north, east and southeast of the Caney Creek Preserve.
Along with John, other speakers were Cumming Mayor Troy Brumbalow, Georgia Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus Executive Director Jay Markwalter, Holiday Inn General Manager Amanda Anderson, Halcyon Senior General Manager David Silber and Alisa Tanner, owner of Cherry Street Brewing.
Markwalter said one benefit for having a strong tourism economy was that bringing in guests can lower the amount of taxes paid by residents.
“The beneficiary is really the local resident because of the spending that’s happening, the improvements in not just the development but the maintenance of those tourism assets that has to happen,” he said. “It’s not just about being economic-development-ready, but it’s about being economic-development-friendly as well.”
Several of the speakers pointed to the perception of Forsyth County and Cumming as a “pass-through” between Atlanta and the mountains of north Georgia, which they would like to see change.
Silver said social media was a big benefit for Halcyon, a mixed-use development off McGinnis Ferry Road that opened in 2019, not only for letting customers know about events and new businesses but also for seeing where those customers were coming from.
“In tracking our social media and our followers, we’ve found that we’re not just attracting the immediate customer in Forsyth County, we’re attracting people from the city of Atlanta,” Silver said. “They’re passing Buckhead, they’re passing Avalon and they’re coming to Forsyth County to spend their day, spend their time, spend their money at Halcyon and in this county, and we just love that. We love being a destination.”
Within the city of Cumming, Brumbalow said Mary Alice Park and the Cumming Fairgrounds had long been popular tourist destinations but new mixed-use developments coming to the city and the Cumming City Center, which he said was slated to open this summer, would also drive tourism.
“It’s a lot different than a lot of the city centers around,” Brumbalow said. “Ours has a big focus on nature, it’s got a 25-acre park with boardwalks and trails, miniature golf that is unlike anything in the country. We’ve got an amphitheater that can seat up to about 8,000 people… but that will be bringing people in from all over just like people here go to those city centers outside the county.”
The mayor said there will also be improvements to the fairgrounds and city leaders were working to have a resort built at the city’s Mary Alice Park, where a similar project was discussed more than a decade ago before the economic recession.
“We’ve applied for a resort at Mary Alice Park with the [U.S. Army] Corps of Engineers, which is a long-term process, but hopefully, we’ll be able to get that over the finish line,” Brumbalow said.
Along with other amenities, the City Center recently announced that Crooked Culture Brewery will be at the development.
Tanner said while Cherry Street was the first brewery in the county, she had seen the area become a destination for beer connoisseurs and was excited for the industry to grow.
“It’s actually really exciting to see some more breweries coming into the county, really making not only just ourselves a destination but making the county a destination with the continued growth. It’s really wonderful to see,” Tanner said. “We also are looking forward to challenging ourselves and really challenging ourselves in the different events we’re providing.”
Like any industry, tourism was heavily impacted by COVID-19, though Anderson said, at Holiday Inn, there was no struggle to fill rooms.
“We’d, obviously, like to see higher rates again, 2019 rates again, but occupancy wise, we are right back where we were,” she said. “We [have booked] full weekdays, weekends, tournaments left and right. There’s not a slow period for us that we even see in the future right now.”
Along with more positive reasons for coming to the county like Lake Lanier, Halcyon or sports, John also pointed out that medical tourism was big in Forsyth County.
John said while locals may think of Northside Hospital Forsyth as the local hospital, it is a top hospital for arthritis and total joint replacements.
“That brings people, not just from local areas, but from far [away],” he said. “There are people who travel, so when people travel, sometimes they have to stay here for a week, two, three weeks going through that rehab process. What do we have for them here? Hotels, venues that they can go dine in, venues that they can spend their time. These are all things that medical tourism can boost.”