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Talks to restore Olympic site making progress

City Council budgets for renovation

POSTED: May 5, 2013 11:59 p.m.

The Lake Lanier Olympic Center could soon see a rebirth if current discussions about restoring the site to its past glory bear fruit.

The Gainesville City Council has budgeted $120,000 for its proposed 2014 budget if the city agrees to help make some capital improvements and pay for a full-time facilities manager. Hall County is also discussing putting aside the same amount for the site.

Attorney Steve Gilliam, who was part of the original Gainesville-Hall 96, has been consulting with the city, Hall County and Vision 2030, a branch of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

Members of Gainesville-Hall 96 are trying to set a date to meet this month to elect a new advisory board for the site. The group worked to bring Olympic events to the area for the 1996 Summer Olympics.

“It would again be a nonprofit governance board that would oversee the facility,” Gilliam said.

The advisory board would help guide the use of the venue, raise funds and work with the local governments on operating and maintaining the site, he said.

“What we’re hoping to do is to re-energize, reorganize, reinvigorate and get new people in a capacity of Gainesville-Hall 96 to work with the city and county and this new position that will hopefully be created into order to bring back the venue to a world-class facility,” Gilliam said.

The Olympic venue needs some major renovations, including repairing the maintenance building, boathouse and docks, that have been estimated to cost between $1.2 million and $1.9 million, officials have said.

The Lake Lanier Rowing Club and the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club pay for the utilities and Gainesville and the county split the rest of the cost, which includes alternating basic maintenance and minor capital improvements.

Richard Mecum, Hall County Board of Commissioners chairman, said he is interested in finding some grant funding for the center. He said there’s quite a bit of work that needs to be done there.

“The interiors are pretty well shot,” Mecum said, referring to all the buildings.

The buildings, now 18 years old, were built for a summer event and not insulated, Gilliam said. The docks have been damaged by the constantly changing lake levels. There’s been no money to make the repairs.

“It can really become a first-class facility, but right now it’s sort of falling into disrepair because the money is just not available to keep it up,” Gilliam said.

The goal is to make the site self-supporting if it’s managed right, Mecum said.

“It can be a big asset to our community,” he said.

Gilliam said the venue needs a manager on site to generate interest in the center and market the site. There are still some national and international rowing and paddling events held there.

The venue is leased to Gainesville and Hall County by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The two governments sublease it to Gainesville-Hall 96, which subleases it to the clubs.


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