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Brenau University could lease Georgia Mountains Center
University officials want to attract national conferences
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Other business

Gainesville City Council:

• Discussed moving forward on the repair of five city streets: Hilton Drive, Heritage Road, Heritage Place, Academy Street and Brandywine Court.

• Discussed moving forward with a study to determine whether traffic on Ga. 369 at its intersection with Ga. 13 warrants the removal of the intersection's traffic light. The light removal would have to be approved by the state Department of Transportation.

• Discussed changes to the intersection of Ga. 129, South Enota Drive and Lakeview Drive to limit collisions.

• Heard from Community Development Director Rusty Ligon on two zoning requests that will be decided at Tuesday's voting meeting.

• Held an executive session to discuss personnel and litigation.

 

The Georgia Mountains Center in downtown Gainesville may soon become part of the Brenau University campus.

Brenau President Ed Schrader pitched a proposal to the Gainesville City Council to lease the center at the council's work session Thursday.

Schrader said the center, as a unit of the university campus, could help the school accommodate its plans for student growth in the coming years.

It is a possible solution for city officials, too, who for years have searched for ways to make the Georgia Mountains Center a financially self-sustaining entity.

The council will vote Tuesday on whether to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the school, allowing both to study the idea in the coming months.

The transfer would require the council to lease the property to the Gainesville Redevelopment Authority, which would then enter into a long-term lease with the university.

The school hopes to house new degree programs in physical therapy, speech and language therapy and nutrition science in the center.

The facility could be renovated to accommodate classrooms, laboratories and offices for those programs at a cost of at least $2 million.

University officials hope they could attract national conferences and workshops to the center based on the university's ambitions to become a hub for health sciences.

Even with the lease, the center's theater would still be available for public rental. Its arena also would be available for rental in the short term.

Schrader told the council Thursday that the school of some 2,800 students hopes to expand to about 5,000 in the next 10 years.

The proposal would need the approval of the private university's board of trustees. Schrader told city officials he expects that decision by the Spring.

Its use of the Georgia Mountains Center would ensure a near omnipresence of university students in the area, creating a consistent customer base for downtown retailers and restaurants, he said.

"It gives a guarantee of vitality to the square," Schrader told council members. "...We believe it expands the life of the Georgia Mountains Center."

School officials also say they plan to work with the developers of a future midtown hotel and business complex so the school's plans can enhance the midtown project.

A pedestrian bridge under construction on Jesse Jewell Parkway is meant to connect hotel guests to the downtown convention center.

Council members, who have been searching for a future plan for the 30-plus-year-old convention center, were warm to the idea Thursday. Mayor Ruth Bruner said the university's plan fit city officials' vision for the future of Gainesville.

Gainesville would aslo be bound to promote conferences, trade shows and other activities at the center, according to the agreement under consideration.

"I think it's a win for Brenau," Mayor Pro Tem Danny Dunagan said. "I think it's a win for Gainesville."

School officials are expected to make a proposal again at the council's Tuesday meeting at 5:30 p.m. in the city's Public Safety and Municipal Court complex.

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