Officials break ground for new boathouse at Lake Lanier Olympic Park
Crowd gathers around tent, dozer and lake in background, waiting for groundbreaking ceremony to begin.

Crowd gathers around tent waiting for groundbreaking ceremony to begin.

“Celebrating our Olympic Legacy for generations to come …” was the heart-felt sentiment expressed during the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Lake Lanier Olympic Park boathouse last month. The venue, built for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, is home to the Lake Lanier Kayak Club and the Lake Lanier Rowing Club. Speakers at the event were Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan, City Tourism Director Robin Lynch, Lake Lanier Olympic Park Foundation Executive Director Mimi Collins, and club member/parent Brian Rochester.

Dunagan offered a brief timeline of the boathouse project and thanked key supporters. He explained that because the original boathouse built for the ’96 Olympics was originally meant to be temporary, important repairs and renovations were not possible. And so began the dreams and plans for a new facility.

In 2015, Gainesville-Hall 96 was re-established to “breathe new life into the park,” and the LLOP Foundation took over operations of the facility, putting into place a master plan for development.

Through public and private support, $1.2 million was invested for capital improvements to the tower and plaza. An additional $750,000 was invested in restoring the Olympic race course, adding a new dock for athletes, two courtesy docks, and new public restrooms.

In 2018, the Corps of Engineers approved the master plan for the area and the foundation began reviewing plans for replacement of the boathouses.

By 2019, the City of Gainesville took over operations of the park, along with the foundation, and progress was made based on the approved master plan. With help from government leaders including Gov Nathan Deal and area legislative officials, Gainesville annexed the park into the city and increased the hotel/motel tax by 2 percent to designate the funds that made the project possible.

Lynch, Gainesville’s tourism director, said the new facility would “mirror the reputation that the park and race course have as one of the top venues in the world.”

According to Lynch, the foundation along with architect Matt Mallard spent two years meeting with paddlers, coaches, special event planners and community stakeholders to design the boathouse. She explained that the boathouse project has two purpose-driven missions:

  1. Fulfilling community needs for meetings, conferences and special events space, and
  2. Supporting the Olympic mission – to cultivate champions in sport and in life.

Lynch described the new boathouse details stating the clubs (LCKC and LLRC) will occupy the lower basement level which will feature a training room, club offices, conference room, boat storage, locker rooms and direct access to the docks. Additionally, there will be 17,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, an outdoor covered terrace and fireplace, a ballroom with seating capacity for 400 and the flexibility to split the space into three rooms. There will also be staff offices, an executive board room, meeting rooms, a catering kitchen and patio seating “overlooking the most beautiful sunsets on Lake Lanier.”

In honor of the ’96 Olympics, there will also be space dedicated to the legacy of those Games.

According to Lynch, in FY 2022, tourism generated $19 million in economic impact to Gainesville of which a third came from LLOP. The new boathouse will allow the community to showcase its two greatest assets: Lake Lanier and its people, she said.

Executive Director Mimi Collins, thanked Mayor Dunagan for his long-time support and exclaimed, “This is an amazing and exciting day! Honoring the Olympic spirit of community, legacy, and love of sport.” She shared that many people had a love/hate relationship with the old boathouse and that its destruction was bittersweet. “As we remember the special memories and great athletes that were trained there,” she said she was honored to welcome everyone to the “new view of Lake Lanier.”

Speaker Brian Rochester’s son started with the club as a novice and went on to win gold at Nationals and participate on Team USA in Poland. He said his son learned lessons of “grit, hard work and of not giving up” at the LLOP facility. He added that the new boathouse will support youth and adults for generations to come and hopes one day to see his grandkids at the park.

The boathouse is expected to cost around $21 million and is set to open in the fall of next year.

Article and Photos: by Vicki Hope