|By David Pendered, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 1, 2005 - Fun World Palace and Resort near Lithonia sounds like a great place for a family-friendly getaway.
Plans call for an indoor water park and indoor amusement park, a performing arts center with 6,500 seats, 400 hotel rooms, 500 apartments in two towers, 120,000 square feet of office space and 110,000 square feet of retail space. Not to mention parking for 8,400 vehicles.
Now all the developers need is to finalize construction financing to build out the 31-acre site in south DeKalb County, near the Mall at Stonecrest. Top Flight Development Group is the latest company to bet that the area is a terrific location for a big project, largely because of the draw of Stonecrest and its retail market basin, which reaches into South Georgia and eastward to Augusta and South Carolina.
Fun World originally was planned for a site closer to the mall, but the developers shifted to a site off Evans Mill Road and expect to start opening Fun World in two to three years. Because the developers own the land, which they purchased for an undisclosed sum, they already have cleared a key hurdle in obtaining construction financing and possible financial support from DeKalb County's development authority.
"Nothing on this side of Atlanta comes close to providing what will be here," said Rodney Zehner, a partner with the Atlanta-based development company. "We believe it will be a destination spot for people to come for conferences and for families that want to give the parents and children a place to hang out and have some fun."
South DeKalb has struggled for years to attract significant development. The area has gained its share of new residents as metro Atlanta's population has grown. But even Stonecrest was on the drawing board for nearly 16 years before it could sign the anchor department store tenants that were needed to start construction, in 2000.
Now the area is a hotbed of development, according to John Robins, who served as Lithonia's mayor from 1986 to 1988.
"Until the mall was opened, things did not take off here," Robins said. "The whole area definitely is being developed. The area between Panola Road and Evans Mill has taken off, and Rock Chapel Road toward Gwinnett County has taken off with housing and new churches and some commercial property. Even the access road from the mall toward Conyers is being developed."
Vernon Jones, DeKalb's chief executive officer, said the planned resort fits into the "Destination DeKalb" campaign that promotes south DeKalb. It will add to the attraction of an area also expected to benefit from the pending designation of Arabia Mountain as a National Heritage Area.
Zehner expects that Fun World's distance from the heart of Atlanta will be a selling point. Although the Georgia Aquarium and expanded High Museum of Art, both opening this month, will be big draws to the urban core, Zehner believes that many families want a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the big city.
"It's not in the mix of Atlanta, but it's a destination spot for businessmen to bring their families where their families can be entertained while they're off doing business," Zehner said.
Staff writer Jeffrey Scott contributed to this article.
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