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Apr. 22, 2019
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Gainesville seeking year-round control of LLOP facility

By Jane Harrison
 
A new era could begin for Lake Lanier Olympic Park this summer, pending local legislation introduced in the 2019 session. Bills permitting the City of Gainesville to annex the 35.5 acre park and raise the hotel/motel tax to support park improvements were submitted just prior to the Georgia General Assembly deadline in March. Legislators were expected to vote on the measures before leaving the Capitol at the close of the session Apr. 2.
 
Approval would add to the string of outdoor jewels managed by the Gainesville Parks & Recreation Department. The venue would become a city park, rather than one jointly managed with Hall County, and the recipient of a budgeted allotment of around $350,000 when the city’s fiscal year begins in July. The city and county have each contributed $150,000 annually since 2014.
 
“The park is a gem, a huge attraction,” said Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan. City manager Bryan Lackey estimated that when the economy is good and tourism is as strong as it currently is, the two percent increase in the hotel/motel tax will contribute $300,000 to $350,000 annually to the park. The council unanimously approved raising the tax from 6 percent to 8 percent last month after previously okaying the proposed annexation. Hall County officials sent letters of recommendation supporting the annexation to state legislators.
 
The city’s vote on the tax increase came just two days before the deadline for legislators to submit local bills. Gainesville Rep. Matt Dubnik expected to file the proposed legislation, which requires the General Assembly’s consent to go into effect, March 21. He said local house and senate members support the measures and that “knock on wood” the General Assembly would vote on them before the session ends.
 
Under the new arrangement, current park management would be employed by the city and venue rentals would go through the parks department. Gainesville-Hall ’96, the non-profit foundation that in 2013 launched a renaissance of the former site of 1996 Olympic rowing and canoe/kayak competition, would remain in an advisory capacity.
 
Dunagan said the city has a “want list” of improvements to be funded through the tax imposed on guests staying at city hotels, motels, and vacation rentals. New restrooms to replace portable potties near the beach, boathouse renovations, pavilions, and walking trails are among items on a GH ’96 master plan that the city hopes to eventually complete. He also mentioned the city might look at how to keep park buildings dry when the lake rises out of its banks.
 
“The old tired buildings” at LLOP were built as temporary structures for the Olympics, Dunagan said. With “some TLC” they can shine, he added. The venue has been kept up largely through the efforts of GH ’96 and two clubs that grew out of the Olympics. The Lanier Canoe & Kayak Club and Lake Lanier Rowing Club regularly launch practices from the LLOP boathouse and stage regattas and community events at there. GH ’96 has hosted national and world championships, completed more than $1 million in renovations, hired park managers, and invited the community to rent the boathouse, finish tower, grandstands and park grounds for weddings, meetings, and festivals.
 
Teaming up the clubs’ connections with the parks department’s promotional strength could bring more events to LLOP, Lackey said. Better facilities, financed by the city, might encourage more group meetings, weddings, family reunions and community outings, he said.
 
“As part of the nationally-accredited Gainesville Parks and Recreation agency, the park would soar on the success of recent major events with a dedicated capital funding source and operational support provided by the city,” city spokesperson Nikki Perry wrote in a press release.
 
LLOP manager Robyn Lynch believes city management and investment will further enhance LLOP. “I’m excited about the change and the city’s vision for the park and its economic potential to the community,” she said.
 
GH ’96 has relied on private sponsorships, facility rentals, state grants, and proceeds from large events, such last spring’s ICF Dragon Boat World Championships, for LLOP’s day-to-day operation and infrastructure improvements. The city take-over is expected to relieve some of the fundraising pressure.
 
GH ’96 chairperson Mimi Collins previously announced hope to eventually raise and invest $10 million to fulfill the LLOP master plan. She was unavailable for comment on the city takeover by the Lakeside deadline.

Posted online 3/29/19
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