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Brenau proposes development plan for area around mountains center
Talks with developers have already begun
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Brenau University's acquisition of the Georgia Mountains Center is estimated to pump about $40 million directly into Gainesville's economy.

What the school needs is $6.5 million to make that happen.

Brenau President Ed Schrader presented the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce board of directors with a possible development plan for the area around the center.

The message: Give future students, faculty and their families a place to live, with all the amenities, in close proximity to the center, and the economy, along with the school, will thrive.

"It's a big idea," said Schrader. "It's a big idea over several years. It's truly a win-win situation."

What he proposes is for possible developers and businesses to invest in Brenau's plans for the center and they will reap the benefits of the enrollment boost the university is hoping for.

Currently, the university enrolls 2,800 students, 1,000 of which are graduate students. The school projects that enrollment to grow to 5,000 by 2025, with half of the students in various graduate programs.

"We see Brenau's moving in as a partnership between the university and the community," said Schrader.

He hopes developers will build housing, restaurants, shops and more, taking advantage of the projected $40 million economic boost.

The downtown square, he predicts, will also benefit.

The school would like to see those developers become investors in its project, helping pave the way financially to get the new facility off the ground.

Talks with those possible developers have already begun.

"We are talking to those people," said Schrader. "I haven't gotten the check from anybody, but I have a lot of folks who understand the value."

If the university can raise the bulk of the money, a health care or educational foundation could provide the capstone donation for the renovation.

But it starts with developers and the community.

"We have to develop momentum to get to that point," Schrader said.

The university will convert the center's arena into a two-story facility.

The top portion will house classrooms for the school's proposed doctor of physical therapy program — the first program slated for the building.

The bottom will serve as a "ballroom" until the school moves into the second phase of development. The school hopes to eventually convert that into more classrooms.

The ballroom will continue to host public events.

A gradual growth of 700 students is expected once the graduate programs at the center begin. That, coupled with faculty and their families, means a potential population boost in the thousands for downtown.

Residences for those people are currently available within a 30-mile radius, but Schrader says keeping students in downtown is a way for Gainesville to enhance and grow.

"It's not as if we can't have the program without having the residences (downtown)," he said. "It's for Gainesville."

Brenau has not talked about buying the adjacent property.

"I've looked at this model around the U.S.," Schrader said. "It's really a better community model if the residential housing is owned by private, for-profit corporations."

The university is in the process of getting plans for the new academic program approved by the board of trustees.

It should present the board those plans in the next two weeks.

If the money is available, construction on the center will start at the beginning of next year.

Breanu signed a 10-year lease of the city-owned property and has the option to renew it for up to five decades.

The university will pay $10,000 per month after a five-year grace period.


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