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Gainesville passes hotel-motel tax increase for Olympic Park
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The Olympic Park Boathouse on Lake Lanier in Gainesville, pictured Feb. 24, 2018. - photo by David Barnes

The Gainesville City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to increase the city’s hotel-motel tax from 6 to 8 percent, with the hopes of funding some capital improvements at Lake Lanier Olympic Park.

The city and Hall County jointly operate the park, but the city hopes to take over operational control, a move that will need to be approved by the state legislature. The legislature will also need to approve the annexation of the park on Clarks Bridge Road in to the city.

Councilman Sam Couvillon phoned in to Tuesday’s meeting.

Now that the Council has approved the hotel-motel tax increase, the legislation for it can be introduced in the Georgia General Assembly. Gainesville’s delegation in the House of Representatives — Reps. Matt Dubnik, Lee Hawkins and Emory Dunahoo — told The Times earlier in March that they supported the idea.

How the tax is used

Gainesville has made about $800,000 to $900,000 from the hotel-motel tax annually for the past few years. The tax is added to charges for accommodations at hotels and motels in the city, and funds from the tax are used to promote tourism, conventions and trade shows.

Some funds from the tax are transferred to pay for general capital improvements, and the city has transferred $210,000 from the tax for that purpose in the current fiscal year. The city also transferred $158,335 for debts to pay for an expansion at the Main Street parking deck.

The majority of the funds are used for the Gainesville Convention and Visitors Bureau, the city’s tourism office.

Recent uses for funds from the tax include new signage entering the city and at some city parks and signage for the Highlands to Islands Trail.

The last hotel-motel tax increase in the city was in 2001, when the rate went from 5 to 6 percent.

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Gainesville resident Heather Chandler uses a stand-up paddleboard she rented at the Olympic Park Boathouse in Gainesville, on Saturday, June 16, 2018. - photo by David Barnes

Park improvements

The nonprofit Gainesville-Hall ’96 has developed a master plan and begun renovations at the park, which was built as a rowing venue for the 1996 Olympics.

Officials say the tax increase would support operations of the park and pay for some renovations, including new restrooms, a pavilion and repairs to the boathouse, which flooded in this year’s heavy rains.

Robyn Lynch, the venue’s executive director, told The Times earlier in March that about 250,000 people visit the venue annually.

If the city takes over the park, Gainesville-Hall ’96 will stay on for fundraising and programming and as an advisory group to the city’s parks and recreation department.

The parks department’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year, which starts in July, has about $353,000 set aside for the park. The city and county have been contributing about $150,000 each annually for the park’s operations.

Community and economic development department

During Tuesday’s meeting, City Manager Bryan Lackey also announced that the city’s community development department would be renamed the community and economic development department and will focus more on business recruitment.

The change involves two title changes. Community Development Director Rusty Ligon will be the community and economic development director, while Planning Manager Matt Tate will be the department’s deputy director.

Tate will continue to oversee zoning items and the Planning and Appeals Board.

Lackey said the city has a positive relationship with the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce but wants an economic development contact on the city level. Ligon can be a contact point for developers and help recruit businesses for some empty land in the city, including the land on the southern end of the Jesse Jewell Parkway pedestrian bridge and the former Hall County Jail site in midtown.

“(The department will be) addressing some of the empty storefronts downtown, having someone recruit that, having someone to really recruit and foster the type of development we want on our corridors, so it’s not haphazard,” Lackey said.

Lackey said the restructuring will also help developers take advantage of the city’s two tax allocation districts, which cover midtown and downtown, along with another for the west part of the city. Developers can apply to benefit from the TAD — when a property is developed, its value and therefore its taxes will go up, but the developers can use the extra money they’re paying to fund improvements at the property.