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Paddlers stir high hopes of reviving Olympic venue

Weekend event brings visitors, dollars to area

POSTED: August 2, 2014 12:15 a.m.

Kaiolu Defries, of team Ikaika Hawaii, gets her boat ready for competition.

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The future of the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue might be written in this week’s USA Canoe/Kayak Sprint National Championships.

The event, which concludes Sunday, features some of the world’s top paddlers at one of the nation’s premier facilities.

An estimated 500 competitors will be on hand, with another 1,000 attendees expected each day of the event.

But off the water and outside of the competition, venue officials hope the event leaves its financial mark on Hall County.

“I’m not sure what the economic impact is going to be, but it’s going to be large,” said venue manager Morgan House.

Though it’s difficult to predict, local officials said events like the canoe/kayak championships could generate nearly half a million dollars in tourism-related spending.

House said he’s been getting inquiries from participants and attendees about where to eat and stay, promising big bucks for local restaurants and hotels.

“Plans to improve the venue’s facilities, enhance activities and diversify the use of Clark’s Bridge Park are going to help the Lake Lanier CVB attract more visitors to the venue,” Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau President Stacey Dickson said. “The venue is a crown jewel for Lake Lanier and our visitors are eager to have an Olympic experience when they come to the area.”

Hall County ranks 12th in the state in tourism-related spending. Officials with the Lake Lanier CVB report occupancy rates and revenue per room at local hotels have increased this year.

While this week’s event is being hosted by the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club, similar events could spell financial relief for the venue, now operated by the nonprofit Gainesville-Hall ’96.

For example, House said he has submitted bids to host the 2016 Pan-American Championships and 2018 Dragon Boat World Championships.

“Future events, like this one, will be a revenue generator,” House said, adding participant and attendee fees will help boost finances. “I do believe that the plan we have laid out ... we will be financially able to put on events.”

And it’s that kind of impact officials hope will make the venue self-sustaining in the coming years.

Both the Hall County and Gainesville governments provided $150,000 in funding for the venue this fiscal year.

But that money might not always be available.

Hall County Commissioner Craig Lutz, for example, questioned why government would fund a private club like the venue. He said the money might be better spent improving other parks in the county.

House said a capital fundraising program would help offset costs and financial support from government.

“We’ve gone into this venture knowing that we can’t fully sustain ourselves without support from the government,” House said, adding government funding might be needed for another three to four years. “We do know that’s not going to last forever and we can’t always rely on it.”

Getting to financial independence could take some time.

But Mimi Collins, chairwoman of Gainesville-Hall ’96, said the nonprofit is working on a five-year plan that includes additional venue renovations, such as replacing aging docks, as well as marketing campaigns to attract more events and visitors.

Moreover, Gainesville-Hall ’96 is reviewing ways to enhance Clarks Bridge Park, where the venue is located.

“That’s an even broader responsibility, looking at what do we need to make the entire park part of our community and quality of life,” Collins said.


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