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Olympic site waiting on funding
Gainesville, Hall promised $150,000
Kayakers make their way to the water with paddles as they start a beginning kayak class at the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club boathouse.

Hall County officials have promised $150,000 to the Gainesville/Hall ‘96 Foundation for the 1996 Lake Lanier Olympic Center, but they still have to vote on using the funds.

Gainesville and the county both agreed earlier this year to give $150,000 each to the new foundation board to manage for fiscal year 2014. The money is planned to go toward hiring a full-time facility manager to operate the site and make capital improvements. The on-site manager would promote the venue and support the clubs.

“I think they will release (the money),” said new board member and Gainesville Councilwoman Ruth Bruner.

A new foundation board of directors was approved earlier this month to take over for the old board and oversee the venue. The foundation met in May for the first time in a few years. The bylaws were changed in the past month to reflect its new life after years of neglect due to a lack of funding.

The nonprofit, known then as Gainesville/Hall County ’96 Roundtable, worked to bring Olympic events to the area for the 1996 Summer Olympics and then maintained the site’s legacy. It’s currently used by the Lake Lanier Rowing Club and the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club and has a worldwide reputation.

But the center at Clarks Bridge Park needs major renovations, including work on the maintenance building, boathouse and docks, officials have said. The cost to fix the venue has been estimated between $1.2 million and $1.9 million. Ideas have been floated over the years, but recent meetings between city and county officials and representatives from Vision 2030, a branch of the chamber that lays out goals, have sparked a renewed interest in restoring the site to its former glory.

Both city and county officials involved in the venture said there needs to be some kind of business plan and budget. The City Council already approved the expense as part of its 2014 budget as long as there was an acceptable plan and budget. The county still needs to authorize the expense.

“We have the funds ready to go and we just have to have a little bit of information so we (can release) the funds,” Bruner said.

Richard Mecum, Hall County Board of Commissioners chairman, said commissioners need the budget information before they vote. He said the money is identified as coming from the marina fund.

“Basically you have to explain to the taxpayer what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and where you’re going to go,” Mecum said, “what you expect to get done.”

Hall County included the money in the fund for next year, but it’s not listed as a line item, said Mike Little, director of the county’s Park and Leisure Services. The marina fund is revenue collected from Aqualand Marina and Sunrise Cove Marina and other recreation fees. The commissioners must approve moving money from the fund.

“It’s accounted for in the overall (fund) budget,” Little said.

The revenue pays for operating area Army Corps of Engineers parks; that’s the only allowed use for the collection. The venue is currently leased to Gainesville and Hall County by the corps. The two governments currently sublease it to the nonprofit, which subleases it to the two clubs. Previously the city and county have rotated operating the center, which mostly consisted of light maintenance and repairs. The clubs pay the utilities.

The county request for documentation on how the money will be spent is reasonable, Bruner said.

“I feel OK, it’s very exciting,” she said. “I’d just like to see it really happen.”

New foundation board member and county Commissioner Scott Gibbs said he hasn’t talked to the other commissioners about the Olympic site. He said he didn’t know if the other commissioners will support it.

“It’s hard for me to ask them their position when I haven’t seen a plan yet,” Gibbs said. “If (the new nonprofit board) come(s) up with a viable plan, I do think it’s a good thing for the county.”

The next Gainesville/Hall ‘96 Foundation meeting is scheduled for Aug. 16, when participants will meet as the new board for the first time and are expected to elect officer positions. Bruner said there may be a check presentation in October if things move as scheduled.