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Gainesville City Council approves convention center study
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The Gainesville City Council approved having a feasibility study evaluate whether the city should try its luck on another convention center at its Tuesday meeting.

The next step for city staff is to find a consulting firm to do the study. The Georgia Department of Economic Development is bankrolling the $25,000 cost.

The former convention center, the Georgia Mountains Center, was leased to Brenau University last year to use for graduate classes as part of the school’s expansion. The Mountains Center has been criticized by council members recently for being too small to attract conventions and popular entertainers. Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan has said the former downtown convention center was losing between $300,000 and $400,000 a year.

The resolution was revised from the one introduced at the council’s work session last week. The version approved Tuesday has a cap of $25,000 and requires the City Council to approve any additional funds.

“If it comes back that it’s going to be more than that, it’ll go back to you all for further approval,” Gainesville City Manager Kip Padgett said.

The study would allow Gainesville to look at options to get the greatest economic impact and strengthen the city as a “regional economic hub,” the letter of agreement said. The agreement is between the city and the state Department of Economic Development.

One space expected to be looked at is the hotel site that developers purchased across from the old convention center. The city built a new pedestrian bridge that spans Jesse Jewell Parkway, linking downtown and midtown areas of the city.

The bridge ends at the potential hotel site. Construction plans for a convention center/hotel complex there withered because of the economic downturn. The study results are expected by Sept. 1.

In other business, the City Council approved a report from the Community Development Department that showed actions and new items of the Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board. The board conditionally recommended the rezoning request from America’s Home Place Inc. to build a 245,000-square-foot shopping center off Ga. 53/Dawsonville Highway.

The request met with some opposition, including about 50 people speaking against it at the planning meeting on Feb. 13.

Conditions included keeping at least 100 feet between the rear of the shopping center, which would be off Ahaluna Drive and Lakeshore Circle, and the Lakeshore Heights subdivision, maintaining all trees and plants in the buffer area and a black vinyl security fence at least 8 feet high.

Rusty Ligon, community development director, said the council members will consider the item at their March 5 meeting and he expects some public comments then.

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