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Gainesville's study for new convention center delayed

City officials ponder feasibility of facility to hold events, meetings

POSTED: September 1, 2013 12:01 a.m.

Gainesville city officials expected phase 1 of a convention center and hotel feasibility study to be completed by the end of August, but it’s taken a bit longer than planned.

Recommendations are now expected later this month, Assistant City Manager Angela Sheppard said. The Georgia Department of Economic Development gave the city a grant of $25,000 for phase I of the study. The state has approved an extension request with a new deadline of Oct. 1.

The Gainesville City Council awarded the bid for the convention center and hotel feasibility study to consulting firms Key Advisors Inc. and the Bleakly Advisory Group in May. The bid award was $24,500.

If Gainesville decides to continue with phase 2, the city would pay all of the cost.

The study is designed to address several specific issues, including market demand, economic impact, construction costs and facility operation. There are two tiers of work, with the second tier delivering more detailed information.

The study is supposed to determine what options Gainesville has in developing a venue successful in attracting large meetings, conferences and entertainment. Ideally, the request for proposal stated, the city would play a supporting role to a primary developer, hotel operator or other party. The purpose is to create the biggest economic impact possible and strengthen Gainesville’s position as an economic leader within Northeast Georgia.

“We wanted an extension, as our consultant was trying to get some information from people because a lot of what she was doing was some market studies, trying to really get some information,” Sheppard said. “The summer holidays, people were out on vacation (and) she just didn’t get the responses in the time that she wanted them to. It just seemed like getting an extra 30 days so that she had a little more time to get some more answers and responses together was best.”

The consultants are talking to businesses in Hall County and surrounding areas to determine their need for meeting facilities and talking to existing meeting places in Northeast Georgia about services they offer.

The Brenau Downtown Center, the former Georgia Mountains Center, provided 18,000 square feet with a 2,600-seat arena, 4,500 square feet of meeting space and a 300-seat theater. The city leased it to Brenau University last year as part of the school’s expansion. The building is being remodeled by the college to create classrooms and labs for graduate classes.

City Council members said earlier this year that the convention center was too small to attract big-name talent and was losing $300,000 to $400,000 a year.

The center served as a venue for local and regional events, but it was never expanded to accommodate larger conventions or to grow with demand, the proposal request stated.

“The Mountains Center was not large enough to host any named entertainers because there weren’t enough seats, and we missed out on a lot of that,” Mayor Danny Dunagan said in February. “The meeting space is just too small, and we turned down multiple requests to have conventions here.”


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