Whether they occur in the sweltering heat of summer or the frigid winds of winter, it is almost impossible not to be swept up in the excitement and pageantry of the Olympic Games.
From the colorful pomp and circumstance of the opening ceremonies to the dramatic conclusions of the closing events after the final medal is presented, the Olympics elevate the human experience and represent something good and noble.
For those cities fortunate enough to host Olympic events, the impact of doing so can be powerful and long lasting, both in terms of positive exposure to the world and economic gain from the billions of dollars involved in construction projects and visitor spending.
Unfortunately, facilities constructed for Olympic competition are not always a part of the lasting legacy for those cities chosen to host the Games.
Many of the spectacular venues built for the highest levels of amateur athletic competition are found to have little use once the Games are over. While some of the multimillion-dollar venues are versatile enough to be repurposed, many sit abandoned, fall into disrepair, or simply fall to the wrecking ball.
The most visible reminder of the 1996 Games in Atlanta is Turner Field, the refashioned remnant of the city’s Olympic stadium. It, too, appears destined for destruction, following the fate of similar stadiums in other Olympic cities.
But the fates are not unkind to all Olympic venues. In fact, there is one here in Gainesville that retains the rarest of designations: a facility built for Olympic competition that continues to be used for its original intent and one that remains a huge success.
The Lake Lanier Olympic Venue is a facility that is as valuable to the community as it is unique.
When the beautiful waters of Lake Lanier provided the course for competitors in 1996, visitors from around the world found their way to Gainesville and Hall County.
Today, the rowing venue continues to attract visitors from afar, and in so doing is responsible for a major contribution to the area’s economy.
In the 12 months beginning in May 2014, the venue brought some $7.8 million into the local economy, according to a study released earlier this month. And the really good news is those numbers are likely to climb even higher in the years to come.
In addition to an assortment of training sessions and competitions that occur at the venue each year, the facility in 2016 will host a Pan American Championship event which will be a continental Olympic qualifier for the Americas. Having that competition here is a true coup for those who work diligently to maintain the rowing venue as an Olympic quality competition site.
To that end, an effort is under way to garner financial support for renovations and ongoing upkeep at the rowing site. The nonprofit Gainesville-Hall ’96 organization, which has overseen operation of the site from the beginning, is working to secure the funding to make sure the venue remains an Olympic caliber operation. Among the group’s plans are making ADA improvements to the plaza and finishing the tower with a new access ramp, cosmetic updates and the addition of handicap-accessible bathroom facilities.
A proposed second phase of improvements would include park renovations, walking trails, an outdoor pavilion and additional rental spaces for public events. And, money allowing, a third phase is planned which would include improvements to the main boathouse, with a renovated façade, updated meeting rooms and new parking.
The operation of the rowing facility is truly a community effort, with the governments of both Gainesville and Hall County involved in the joint venture. Both governments have approved annual allocations of $150,000 to the nonprofit Gainesville-Hall ’96.
In addition to competitors from distant locales, the Venue gets plenty of use by the locals. It is home to both the Lake Lanier Rowing Club and the Lake Lanier Canoe & Kayak Club. Classes are available for rowers of all ages, and portions of the facility can be rented for public events.
Those unfamiliar with the Venue off Clark’s Bridge Road might be surprised at the level of activity there. In the month of May alone, the facility hosted “The Lake Show,” a concert held in conjunction with the John Jarrard Foundation; the Canadian National Team Trials; the U.S. Rowing Southeast Youth Championships; the annual Rubber Duck Derby fundraiser; the BBI Junior Olympic Racing League Fungatta; and the ACRA Rowing Championships.
The potential upside for the Venue remains high. Morgan House, manager of the facility, his staff and the members of the nonprofit board that oversee the LLOV are all deserving of recognition for the job they’ve done in operating LLOV.
Nearly 20 years after the Atlanta Games, the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue remains a world-class facility. It’s a gold medal winner of which we should be extremely proud, and in which we should be willing to invest.