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City and county agree on economic impact of Lanier Olympic venue

POSTED: April 4, 2013 12:45 a.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

Rowing students watch as college rowing crews arrive back to the boathouse Saturday morning at the Clarks Bridge Park Olympic Venue. The group watched as the teams removed and carried their boats so they could learn the proper method during their beginning rowing class.

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Officials in Hall County, the city of Gainesville and the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce agree the Lake Lanier Olympic venue at Clarks Bridge Park is a gem that could bring in some economic impact.

But the infrastructure has needed major work for years, raising the same questions discussed before — who’s going to pay for what and how is it going to be operated.

Richard Mecum, Hall County Board of Commissioners chairman, said recently he hopes to have a good idea of how to tackle the problems facing the Lake Lanier Olympic venue in the next four to six weeks.

He and Commissioner Scott Gibbs are meeting Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan and Councilwoman Ruth Bruner at the venue Tuesday to evaluate the infrastructure and discuss options, Gibbs said.

The site needs major renovations including work on the maintenance building, boathouse and docks, officials have said. The information reportedly came from a Lake Lanier Rowing Club and Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club five-year plan from 2011. The price to fix up the venue has been estimated between $1.2 million and $1.9 million.

Ideas have been floated over the years, but discussions were occasional and casual, said Melvin Cooper, director of Gainesville Parks and Recreation. Talks broke down in 2007-2008 when the recession hit. But recently, meetings have been held between city officials and representatives from Vision 2030, a branch of the chamber that lays out goals, and between Gainesville and the county officials.

Vision 2030’s proposal is to hire a full-time facilities manager and have a separate board with an operating budget that the city, county and clubs would pay into as a part of Gainesville-Hall 96. Gainesville-Hall 96 was a group that worked to bring the Olympic events to the area. The on-site manager would promote the venue and support the clubs.

The venue is leased to Gainesville and Hall County by the Army Corps of Engineers. The two governments currently sublease it to Hall 96, which subleases it to the clubs, Cooper said. The city and county alternate the maintenance and make minor capital improvements.

Gainesville’s budget for the park during July to December of last year was $26,000. Cooper has budgeted $35,000 for the full 12 months of fiscal year 2014. The clubs pay utilities for the boathouse and the tower, but Gainesville and Hall County split the rest of the park costs 50-50. The clubs get the revenue from the events held there.

Vision 2030 first floated its proposal about two years ago and gave it to the city and the county, said Meg Nivens, executive director of the chamber and a board member of Vision 2030.

“We have a huge interest because this is such an important asset to the community,” Nivens said. “Lake Lanier has the best water for racing, but we want to have the best facilities to continue to attract colleges and clubs here.”

County commissioners threw out their thoughts and ideas during a retreat in late March. Mike Little, Hall County Parks and Leisure director, said at the retreat that the commissioners needed to decide if they want to put a manager at the site and go that way or do they want to have a board operate the facilities.

Mecum said he would like to see the venue get back on its feet, but what Vision 2030 wants, which is the city and county to put in $150,000 a year, is really expensive. Mecum also said they’ve missed out on some national events and could do more with the site, such as use it as a meeting venue. But government is going to have to take a major role to lay a foundation.

“I feel the rowing venue is a diamond in the rough,” Mecum said. “We’re not marketing it, we’re not doing the things that need to be done and that’s something that we’re really going to have to take a hard look at.”

Dunagan said the talks are still in the preliminary stage. It’s going to take money to get a manager and maybe working with the chamber to get some private donations to pay for the needed renovations.

He said he knows the city wants to enhance the venue, but Bruner is more involved. She didn’t return a call for comment.

Nivens said the chamber group is a facilitator to help the city and county decide. There’s more momentum now and they’re hopeful, she said.

“At this point, it’s up to the city and the county,” Nivens said.


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