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Johnny Vardeman: Hopes remain city’s midtown bridge will lead to somewhere
Gainesville's pedestrian bridge spans Jesse Jewell Parkway, linking downtown with midtown. - photo by Time file photo

Gainesville is still waiting on that hotel/convention center to build on that open space across the pedestrian bridge on Jesse Jewell Parkway.

Johnny Vardeman

Originally, the Georgia Mountains Center was built to attract conventions and other big events to the city. But the Mountains Center is now Brenau University.

Even more than 35 years ago, city officials planned for a big hotel on a former Urban Renewal tract at the corner of Jesse Jewell and E.E. Butler parkways.

Three companies submitted bids for various sized hotels that would provide space for convention visitors whose meetings would be across the street at the Mountains Center. However, there was no pedestrian bridge at that time.

The winner of the competition to build on that site was Laredo Enterprises of Canada. It proposed a $9 million project that would include 150 hotel rooms on seven levels with a 150-foot atrium.  Offices would be a part of the complex.

Two other hotel groups had proposed anywhere from 100 to 250 rooms, each of them multimillion-dollar propositions.

The Laredo proposal, however, didn’t get off the ground. A hotel was built, and it has operated under different management, but is now a Ramada.

Some ridicule the pedestrian bridge connecting that still vacant property with downtown Gainesville. However, city officials still have hopes that what they want will come about someday.

Meanwhile, the pedestrian bridge is put to good use by people walking to downtown from the hotel or those living on the city’s southside.

Lake Lanier lovers continue to wonder why its level hasn’t risen in the wake of rains from Tropical Storm Irma. Some locations in Gainesville recorded more than 3 inches of rain, while it seemed like more in other places in the watershed.

This is the typical time, after Labor Day, when the lake level falls to provide storage for winter rains. Despite recent rains, the lake still is 5.5 feet down from its normal pool of 1,071 feet above sea level. It has never reached normal this year.

The lake level is something residents talk about and debate ever since Buford Dam was built to back up the Chattahoochee River. A similar debate was roiling the waters about this time of year in 1981. The level the first part of September was lower then than at the same time this year. It was at 1,062.08 feet, but heavy rains Labor Day weekend that year should have caused the level to rise, lake watchers observed. Yet, it fell slightly to 1,062.07 feet.

Almost 4 inches of rain had fallen the first few days of September 1981, well ahead of the normal for the whole month.

Elan Pharmaceuticals, which ended up on Gould Drive off McEver Road in Gainesville, originally was planned off Mount Vernon Road in Hall County. It would have sat next to Wahoo Park on Lake Lanier.

Instead, the company built its complex on Gould Drive. The Irish-based company had been attracted to Hall County during a Georgia Chamber of Commerce Red Carpet Tour of the area. Donald Panoz was its president.

In 2011, Alkermes, another Irish company, bought was what known then as Elan Drug Technologies, and in 2015 Alkermes sold to Recro Pharma Inc.

The drugs research company in the past has employed more than 150 people on the 132 acres.

Panoz and wife Nancy founded Chateau Elan Winery at Braselton in 1992, and it has spurred development of that entire area with gated residential communities, golf courses, industry and a bevy of commercial enterprises. Panoz also owned Road Atlanta, and is responsible for the annual Petite Le Mans sports car race there Oct. 4-7.

A nugget from the Dahlonega Nugget, circa 1928:

“There was a time when but few people used snuff, put up in little tin boxes, one of which would last a woman a long time — girls and men didn’t use it then. Now a lot of girls use it so steady and in such quantities that when a boy goes to kiss such a girl, he has to wait until she unloads her mouth or take a dip of snuff or a chew of tobacco so they can exchange ambier (sic) without making a difference in the flavor.”

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; e-mail, His column appears Sundays.

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