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Gainesville still considering options for convention space

POSTED: October 16, 2013 11:19 p.m.

Gainesville could see new jobs and tax revenue if a modified convention center were built in downtown.

That was the message of consultants from Key Advisors Inc. and the Bleakly Advisory Group in a presentation Wednesday morning at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

Assistant City Manager Angela Sheppard said the city was still evaluating the study to decide if it wants to send out a request for proposals or engage the consultants in a deeper analysis on the issue.

The modified center would include a hotel, large meeting space and a restaurant under one roof.

“We like the concept that it is downtown,” Sheppard said. “But obviously, like everybody mentioned here, obviously we have (Lake Lanier) as a great asset here in our community, so we need to capitalize on that.”

The estimated project cost is about $28.4 million, with 25 percent paid through public funding and 75 percent paid by a private developer, said Ken Bleakly, president of the Bleakly Advisory Group. That means Gainesville would have to secure about $7.1 million, which could come from various sources, including tax allocation districts, low-interest bond financing and the hotel/motel tax.

The investment could generate 180 temporary construction jobs, with a $7.9 million payroll, and 80 permanent jobs at the facility that could add up to $1.9 million in income each year, Bleakly said. It could also add $298,000 to the annual hotel/motel tax and $4.8 million in property taxes and local sales taxes during the next 10 years.
Members of the business community and local government leaders packed the room to hear the presentation. Kit Dunlap, CEO of the chamber, suggested a possible partnership between Gainesville and Hall County to move the project forward.

“We’re always looking for ways to work together,” Hall County Commissioner Billy Powell said.

Gainesville City Council initially envisioned a large convention that would draw national trade shows and events, but the consultants found little demand for that in the area. They did find a market for an upscale hotel with a third-party restaurant and 11,000 to 15,000 square feet in meeting space in an “urban” area. The building would be about 30,000 square feet.

Market demand for that includes area businesses, corporate events from the north Atlanta area and North Georgia counties, social events and leisure visitors.

“It’s got elements of a traditional convention center, but not all of them, and it would remain functional and flexible,” said Linda Wilson, president of Key Advisors. “And the lodging component actually allows the facility to be successful given the way that works. We really felt that such a modified facility really does meet the demand we uncovered for the market from a regional, statewide and local perspective.”

The former city convention center, now known as the Brenau Downtown Center, was leased to Brenau University last year because city officials said it was too small. The study recommended at least 7,000 additional square feet for the meeting space, which could also serve as a ballroom.

The modified facility would also complement local assets, such as Lake Lanier and an active downtown area with stores and restaurants that, Wilson said, would provide a more metropolitan experience with a “uniquely Gainesville feel.” Another recommendation that could be a big selling point to meeting planners was a pavilion on the lake to connect the more urban experience with the “resort feel” of the water, Wilson said. She also suggested Longwood Park as a possible site for the pavilion because visitors could walk on trails or use a hotel shuttle service to get there. Other options include tying in the Lake Lanier Olympic Center, other parks near the water and boat charters.

The results of the feasibility study were initially presented to the City Council in late September.


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