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Gainesville considers taking over Lanier Olympic venue
City shares Clarks Bridge Road facility with Hall County
Paul and Loretta Raley, of Lawrenceville, load up their kayak at Clarks Bridge Park in the shadow of the Lanier Olympic venue Thursday ending an afternoon on Lake Lanier. The City of Gainesville is considering taking over the maintenance of the Olympic venue which hosted the canoe and kayak events during the 1996 Olympic Games.

In other business, the council:

• Discussed a proposal from Gainesville Public Utilities Director Kelly Randal to raise water rates by 4 percent and sewer rates by 4.25 percent in 2012. The proposal for water rates is lower than an original proposal given in late March.
• Agreed to send a letter of support for the Beverly J Searles foundation’s plan to build a 60- to 84-unit senior-living facility at the corner of Myrtle and Barn streets. The foundation needs the letter for a low-income housing tax credit application.
• Discussed prohibiting parking on one side of Alpine Street.
• Went into executive session to discuss personnel and potential litigation.

Gainesville officials may once again look into the possibility of taking over the maintenance of the Lake Lanier Olympic venue.

The venue, located on Clarks Bridge Road, is the only remaining facility from the 1996 Summer Olympics still being used for its original purpose. It is maintained jointly by the city and county governments.

At Thursday's City Council work session, Councilman Bob Hamrick asked whether the city could use some of a $1.5 million fund balance designated for community development to make improvements at the venue.

Hamrick also asked city staff to begin discussions with county officials about the city taking complete control over the venue's care.

For years, supporters have said the venue needed serious upgrades to stay competitive with other rowing venues in the country, and the venue's value as a training facility would improve if it had housing for athletes or an on-site cafeteria.

Connie Hagler, longtime executive director of the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club, stepped down from her position in 2007, citing a need for more community involvement in the venue's care.

When she left, Hagler said she hoped her departure from the position would bring attention to the need for community investment in the venue.

The Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club is not a division of the city or county government, but the rowing venue the group calls home is jointly owned by the city and the county.

The venue still plays host to national events but has lost traction as a competitive facility since 2003.

As canoe, kayak and rowing competitions became more popular in the United States, the Head of the Hooch festival moved from Lake Lanier to Chattanooga, Tenn.; a Brazilian team decided against training at the venue; and the Olympic team trials moved to Chula Vista, Calif., and then to Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City's newer venue, the Chesapeake Boathouse, beat the Lanier venue out in a competition to host the 2008 National Championships. The venue is backed by the community with a local sales tax and by big corporate sponsors such as Chesapeake Power that pour millions of dollars into the venue.

Other rowing venues in Seattle and New York are also backed by government dollars.

From time to time, officials from both the Gainesville and Hall County governments have discussed taking some of the financial burden of the venue off the club.

But the only time any of that talk came to fruition was in 2003, when Lake Lanier was host to the 2003 Canoe and Kayak World Championships, and both the city and county doled out some money to add on to the venue.

Later, in 2007, the city and county discussed paying utility bills at the venue.

But when county officials didn't include the money in the government's fiscal year 2008 budget, Gainesville officials backed off the proposal, too.

Then the economy tanked, and both county and city officials were furloughing employees to make ends meet.

Money for capital needs at a subsidiary venue just wasn't there.

But as Gainesville officials discussed financial reporting for a $1.5 million surplus Thursday morning, Hamrick, who has long been a champion of the venue's economic potential, said it was time to reconsider investing in the venue.

"If we're going to do anything about it, it seems this is the time," Hamrick said.

County officials, who are facing an $11.5 million shortfall, are supposed to take over maintenance of the venue beginning in July, according to a responsibility-sharing agreement between the two governments.

Hamrick said the county's budget shortfall was "even more reason" the city should approach county officials about taking over the venue's maintenance.