A new Lake Lanier visitors center is still planned, but it may take a while.
“Community acceptance and support is there for a new center but we’re still waiting on funding,” said Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The center is primarily being funded through a special purpose local option sales tax that hasn’t performed as well as hoped.
“Right now we are at the mercy of SPLOST, which hasn’t gone anywhere that we hoped it would,” Dickson said. “The funds pledged to this project have not been collected yet, and may not come in by the end of the tax period.
“Meanwhile, we’re monitoring the changes in the traveling public’s need for traditional visitor information centers. There is a definite shift from old-school brochure racks and restroom stops to the more tech-savvy.”
The CVB had a previous visitors center that was opened for the 1996 Olympics and was located off Interstate 985 between Exit 12 and Exit 16. Originally intended as a temporary facility, the center provided brochures, maps, and other tourist information until May 2010 when it closed due to budget constraints. The location has since been turned over to the Georgia Department of Transportation.
A new visitors center has been discussed for years. Vision 2030, a Gainesville-Hall County Chamber of Commerce initiative to set long-term development goals most desired by citizens, named a new center as No. 8 of its top 15 “big ideas” in 2005.
Then in 2009 Hall County passed its SPLOST VI, which included $1.5 million for the construction of a new visitors center.
The current CVB office is in Gainesville, a less-than-ideal location, according to Dickson.
“Our welcome mat is kind of in the kitchen,” she said. “By the time you reach it, you have probably already figured out the information you are looking for.
“We want a new visitor center in South Hall County. This will give us more opportunity to convert passers-by into spenders.”
It’s not all bad news, however.
“The silver lining to the delayed funding is the success of the Lake Lanier Islands Parkway Community Improvement District, which will improve visibility and popularity of a new visitors center,” Dickson said.
The Lake Lanier Islands Parkway Community Improvement District is a self-taxing entity created by local property owners to raise money to leverage government funds for community improvements. The project was assisted by the CVB and is awaiting final approval from the Buford city government.
“The Lanier Islands Parkway CID is moving forward and that helps lay a foundation of possibilities for the future location of a visitors center at the county’s new gateway,” Dickson said.
“Right now there are other priorities for the CVB, but the new visitor center is one of our great hopes,” Dickson said.