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Top three in the world: Lake Lanier Olympic Boathouse update

By Christian Ashliman | Video: Joy Holmes

Officials working on the Lake Lanier Olympic Park Boathouse provided an update Monday on construction progress and planned uses for the nationally recognized venue.

Lake Lanier Olympic Park Boathouse is a large-scale project taking place on the northwestern side of Clarks Bridge Road in Gainesville and will replace the older rowing club building that was on the banks during the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. The new boathouse began construction in July 2022 and aims to be completed in early 2024.

When the US Olympic Committee succeeded in a bid for the ‘96 games to take place in Georgia, the intention was to retain the facility, so the North Georgia Community could enjoy the legacy park after the games were long over.

That endeavor proved useful for the last two-and-a-half decades, as rowing teams nationwide have traveled to Gainesville to make use of the amenities. Now the boathouse is seeing a major update, as the old structure was torn down and a new state-of-the-art club and event center is rising in its wake.

“We went through many, many ideas and designs of it [the old boathouse] and everything came back that it wasn’t feasible to renovate and rehab, mostly because of sprinklers, and the roof couldn't take in sprinklers,” Park Manager James Watson said. “And so that's one of the reasons we decided after so many years, and three or four different reiterations of that, to just do a full rebuild. But the building served its purpose for almost 25 years, it housed all of our clubs, we definitely got our time out of that building. But it was definitely ending its lifecycle.”

The Lake Lanier Rowing Club is the major player operating out of the boathouse, hosting people of all ages who participate in canoe and kayak activities.

“On top of that, we do a lot of out-of-town training, spring breaks, rowers from all over the eastern seaboard of the country come in town for their spring breaks to train,” Watson said. “We hosted a lot of community events out of it. And it hosted a lot of people throughout the years and now it can host even more.”

The new boathouse will be open year-round to both club members and the general public. The rowing course is among the top three in the world due to fair water conditions and long, unobstructed rowing lanes, according to Gainesville Tourism Director Robyn Lynch.

The lower level of the new building will house the canoes and kayaks for the rowing team, along with a selection of boats available to be rented out by community members looking to get involved. While that space is similar in size to the original building, it will be greatly updated to have a more modern look and feel.

The major difference between the old building and the new one will be the upper levels. The new boathouse will have over 15,000 square feet of meeting space, including an 8,400 square foot ballroom with an attached terrace, all of which will be available to rent for private and community events. There will also be several conference rooms local businesses can use.

Attached to the ballroom area of the new building will be a large kitchen that catering companies can operate out of during events. Watson and Lynch hope the new venue helps to satisfy a growing need in Gainesville for more leasable event space.

“The park sees about 120,000 cars a year come through it for our events, for the beach, just to be here in general,” Watson said. “So the state calculates that about 200,000 people through their calculator. So it was a big need for it on that side.”

Carroll Daniel Construction Project Executive Ashley Haynes said they made moves early on in the process to ensure material prices didn’t get out of hand.

“We did release everything immediately and go ahead and get purchase orders written as quickly as possible when the city released this [the boathouse project],” Haynes said. “We've been fortunate that none of our subcontractors have come back to us for any escalation that they have. But we do have stored materials, such as the roofing, and we did go ahead and plan to have materials stored as soon as they were available so that we could try to mitigate any of the escalation issues.”

The boathouse is set to open its doors in April 2024, which will be preceded by a ribbon-cutting event.

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