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Lake Lanier Olympic Venue could help area businesses thrive
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A group of vendors walks down the plaza stands Wednesday toward the 1996 Olympic Tower at the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue as they tour the site in Gainesville. The venue invited vendors out to discuss and collaborate on how the venue could make improvements to the location in order to host a variety of events that could potentially bring the vendors as well as the venue business opportunities. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Lake Lanier’s blue waters could mean greenbacks for area businesses.

“The main word I want you to think about is ‘potential,’” Lake Lanier Olympic Venue manager Morgan House told a group of vendors gathered at the venue Wednesday.

“We want to be able to accommodate all types of events, large and small.”

House led the 20 or so vendors on a tour of the boathouse, plaza stands and 1996 Olympic Tower. Along the way, he talked about planned improvements, which include renovations to the boathouse, stands and a service building on the back side of the plaza.

“What I want you to do while you’re out here,” he told the group, “is think of the kinds of events that you would like to see put on here.”

A wedding was held at the venue in October, right off the lake, and “we’ll be having two more weddings like that this year,” House said.

He also said a concert, “Lake Show,” featuring several artists, is set for May 30 at the venue.

Ga. 284/Clarks Bridge Road cuts through the venue, so the group also got to experience walking through the newly opened pedestrian tunnel that joins one side of the venue to the other.

The tunnel was built as part of a Georgia Department of Transportation project to replace Clarks Bridge on Lanier with an $8.7 million structure, set for completion Dec. 31.

“It’s grown a lot,” Tom Reed, owner of Georgia Dove in Gainesville, said of the venue.

His business specializes in dove releases at weddings, funerals and other events.

He said he hopes to capture some business at the venue, including weddings and “some of the other big events they have going on here.”

Another vendor, Ray Yates, who runs a mobile shaved ice business, Snowie of Georgia, said he hopes to do more than just reap profits at venue events.

“I could give back a percentage of that to (the venue) to help them raise money to put on future events,” he said.

The site served as a rowing and canoe/kayak venue during the 1996 Olympics, and it still showcases those sporting events.

“Most Olympic stadiums or venues are either repurposed, demolished or pretty much abandoned,” House said. “This is the only venue for the ‘96 Olympics that’s still in use for its intended purpose. And we have major events that happen here every year.”

He mentioned Saturday’s 29th annual John Hunter Regatta, which will feature college and youth rowing teams.

The venue also will play host to the 2016 Pan American Championships next May.

Construction is expected to start soon on improvements largely in preparation for the Olympic qualifying event, which is expected to draw some 1,000 visitors.

Getting the venue ready for the Pan American Championships is utmost priority, said Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“There’s triage we have to do, then some beautification,” she said.

The venue, however, has to do more than welcome top-notch athletes competing for trophies.

It also must tap into nonsports events “to get to the place to be self-sustaining ... and maybe generate some revenue that could be put into hosting community events,” Dickson said.