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Brenau signs Mountains Center lease
University to use 30-year-old building for health care programs
From left to right, Brenau University Trustee Jim Walters, Gainesville city manger Kip Padgett and Brenau University President Ed Schrader sign a lease Friday morning to allow the university control of the Georgia Mountains Center. The lease will allow Brenau University to expand graduate-level health care programs in the 30-year-old convention center. - photo by AARON HALE

Signed, sealed and delivered.

The Georgia Mountains Center is Brenau's.

Brenau University officials signed a 50-year lease for the 30-year-old convention center on Friday morning. It plans to convert the building to classroom and lab space for an expansion of its graduate level health care programs.

The deal is being touted as an opportunity for growth to the city's downtown area.

Brenau University President Ed Schrader projects a $40 million annual economic impact to Gainesville and Hall County once the university's programs are up and running at the Mountains Center in 2014 or 2015.

In addition to about 75 instructor jobs opening up, university officials say the plan will bring hundreds of graduate students to the downtown area.

"This is one of the most exciting things we've seen in this community," said Redevelopment Authority member Doug Carter.

Carter said the city has a lot to gain by being able to brand itself as a health care education hot spot.

At the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce on Friday morning, Gainesville City Manager Kip Padgett signed over the title of the Mountains Center to the Gainesville Redevelopment Authority, which will execute the lease on behalf of the city.

Jim Walters, secretary of the Brenau's board, was there with Schrader to sign and place the university's seal on the documents.

While the ink is drying on lease, the university is in no rush to move in yet.

Schrader said the university's Board of Trustees still has to approve the proposed doctoral physical therapy program that would be first to move into the center.

University officials are now tallying the staffing and equipment required to begin the program and planning funding measures. Schrader said he expects that to be finalized for board approval this summer.

The university will have to move into the Mountains Center by the end of the year.

After the takeover, the center's arena — which in the past has housed everything from professional wrestling to bull riding events — will be the first to undergo renovations.

Brenau plans to create two levels where the arena is now.

The bottom floor will become a ballroom, and the top will be converted to classroom space.

The center's theater and meeting rooms will remain open for public events, Schrader said.

The open area leading down to the corridor will be turned into physical therapy lab space.

The university could also add in-house physician assistance and pharmaceutical programs to begin at the Mountains Center later.

As part of the terms of the lease, the university will not pay rent for the first five years as it funds renovations and program expansion. After five years, Brenau will begin paying the city $10,000 per month for use of the center.

The 50-year lease will have to be renewed every 10 years.

At that point the university could offer to buy the center.