Saturday February 6th, 2016 6:40PM

Gainesville wants to stop 'missing the boat' on Olympic venue

By Rob Moore Reporter
GAINESVILLE -- The Gainesville City Council wants to see the Olympic rowing venue on Lake Lanier enhanced as a tourism booster for the area.

"I know this has been a goal of various ones for years, since the Olympics, to do something with it to make it a destination here on the lake," said Councilman Bob Hamrick.

An evaluation of the site has been conducted to determine how to improve the facility

"It's a great attraction," Hamrick said. "Can we investigate just going ahead and issuing bonds to make the improvements and do the advertisements? I think we could gain on the hotel/motel tax sufficient enough to retire the indebtedness on the bond issue."

Following some discussion of the matter, Hamrick said the time for action is now.

"What I would say is just authorize the city manager and staff to talk with the county and see if we can't work out some sort of an agreement that we're going to assume the responsibility of it," Hamrick said. "I think we're the ones that's really going to benefit from it."

"Plus the county really hasn't shown much interest in it," Councilwoman Ruth Bruner said.

"I think one of the reasons why we haven't seen the motels really be serious about Gainesville is because of our occupancy rate -- and I think this is one of the things that would help stimulate the occupancy in our hotels," Hamrick said.

Hamrick suggested the city advertise the facility to colleges who potentially would use it.

"Certainly we have seen interest in that grow over the years where even high schools now are sponsoring rowing teams," Hamrick said. "We just, I think, are sort of missing the boat. The others are developing sites and taking advantage of it."

Mayor Danny Dunagan echoed Hamrick's and Bruner's interest in the venue.

"I agree with you 100 percent," Dunagan said. "I was at the Dragon Boat Festival and participation was just phenomenal. I do think maybe after the first of the year we need to sit down and talk with the county."

Dunagan also pointed out the state's economic development and tourism programs, saying city leaders need to talk with state officials about the site.

Hamrick and Bruner said the state is set to begin the bridge project on Clarks Bridge, adding now is the time to discuss the venue.

"Casey Cagle has mentioned a couple of times the venue," Bruner said. "He said, 'I'm really interested in that site. Let me know what you'd like to do.'"

"I think the governor's very supportive of it, too," Dunagan said, pointing out the past two Grilling with the Governor events were held there.

The consensus was for the city to begin conversations on the facility.

Also during Thursday morning's work session, the council discussed a letter received from the city's natural gas provider, Atmos Energy, that its Gainesville operation has been sold.

Hamrick suggested welcoming the successive provider, while also laying out what is expected from the company.

Dunagan said he has talked to state legislators about the possibility of deregulating natural gas in the city of Gainesville.

"This might be a good time to look into that, to see if it's feasible," Dunagan said. "I don't know that it is, but it will take a legislative act to do that."

Near the end of the meeting, Dunagan asked the council to consider developing a panhandling ordinance similar to a revised ordinance recently implemented in Atlanta.

"I'm getting a huge amount of complaints about panhandlers on the Square downtown," Dunagan said. "They'll be sitting outside eating, and I've had citizens tell me they'll come up to them and ask them for money."

"I think before it gets out of control, we need to look at this," Dunagan said.
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