Brenau University will take over operations at the Georgia Mountains Center next month and expects to start construction the month after that, university President Ed Schrader said.
Brenau is leaping forward with its plans to remake the center into a high-tech academic setting. Construction is scheduled to take about a year, but some in the business community are already looking forward to the expected economic impact on the city, particularly the downtown area.
“It’s great partnership with the city and Brenau,” said Kit Dunlap, president of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce. “Everybody really feels comfortable about it.”
Since Brenau signed a 10-year lease agreement in February with the city of Gainesville to take over the convention center, it’s been raising money and making plans.
The school will take over the center’s operations on Dec. 15. Construction is scheduled to start by the end of January and the first class of a new doctoral physical therapy program is expected to take off in the newly renovated building in January 2014. The project’s estimated to cost about $6.5 million, but many alumni, local business owners and private donors have kicked in money to help finance the university’s expansion.
“We have raised $4.5 million in cash or commitments,” Schrader said.
If donations don’t cover the total cost of the project, the school can finance the rest of the expense, Schrader said. The college president said he is also in discussions with philanthropic foundations and private donors in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Brenau’s expansion in downtown Gainesville is projected to add about 500 to 700 graduate-level students to the city in the next 10 to 12 years. More people downtown benefits area businesses and promotes economic development, Dunlap said.
“The downtown area has been very supportive of it,” said Matt Thomas, Brenau’s vice president for external relations.
A lot of folks involved in the development business call the school and the city to talk about possibilities, Schrader said.
“Nobody’s said ‘I’m going to build that,’ but they’re definitely interested,” he said.