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Several options available for empty I-985 building in Hall County
Animal shelter could use former visitor center for storage
Hall County is working with the Georgia Department of Transportation on plans to remove the old Northeast Georgia Visitor Center off Interstate 985, between exits 12 and 16. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

A new Hall County visitor center still is in the talking stages, but an aging, dust-colored trailer off Interstate 985 that used to be a home for brochure and map distribution could be getting a new home soon.

Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention & Visitors Bureau, said her agency is working with Hall County and the Georgia Department of Transportation to remove the structure, which sits off I-985's northbound lanes between Exit 12 in Flowery Branch and Exit 16 in Oakwood.

Mike Ledford, director of the Hall County Animal Shelter, said Wednesday his department is "looking into ways to remove (it) ... and possibly use it for storage.

"We don't have an exact time frame at this time," he said. "We are still looking at options and ways to move it."

The center opened in time for the 1996 Olympics and welcomed visitors on their way to the rowing and canoe/kayak venue at Clarks Bridge Park in Gainesville. It was originally intended as a temporary facility, but wound up serving motorists until budget woes forced the CVB to close it in May 2010.

Since closing it, "We were kind of in a holding pattern, not that we were necessarily going back out there, but we were leaving open the option that we could," Dickson said.

"And then we decided we weren't ever going back there, and we're moving on."

The abandoned structure, easily seen by I-985 motorists, has become something of an eyesore.

"It leaves a questionable impression, as to (whether it is) open ... and what's going on there," Dickson said.

Some cleanup work has been done at the site, including
moving picnic tables to Hall County parks and picking up debris in the parking lot, she said.

Dickson said that once the site is cleared, it will be turned back over to the DOT.

The DOT will install barricades on the driveway that used to jut off I-985 and lead to and from the visitor center, such as what was done at a former rest stop on the southbound side, she said.

The former visitor center site could be used as a construction "staging area" for the planned Exit 14 connecting Martin Road at Atlanta Highway to H.F. Reed Industrial Parkway at Thurmon Tanner Parkway, Dickson said.

Teri Pope, spokeswoman for the DOT's Gainesville-based office, said that once a contractor has a job, the company chooses a site for a project office, "so we are way, way too early to say where it will be."

Because of its closeness to the Exit 14 project, though, "that part of that property will change because of the construction of the new interchange," she said.

Plans are under way for a new visitor center near "the gateway to Hall County and Lake Lanier along the I-985 corridor," but a location is yet to be determined, Dickson said.

"We're still very much up in the air on how much physical building there needs to be versus how much technology," she said.

"Our hopes are to create a technology-friendly, convenient and accessible venue for distributing information ... while also keeping the operational and maintenance costs as low as possible."

The CVB has considered a site off Exit 16 "and that's not completely out of the question, but all of our stakeholder partners agree ... that the farthest south we can possibly get (with the center), the better off that we all are. ... The gateway needs to be at the entrance to the county."

Dickson said that $1.5 million in special purpose local option sales tax money has been designated for the project.

"But we're dependent on what the collections are, and (the county is) collecting not at the pace that was hoped," she said.

An estimated completion date hasn't been set for the project.


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