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Gainesville looks to expand downtown development

Mixed-use project to serve as gateway to square

POSTED: June 1, 2014 12:30 a.m.

Gainesville has received three bids to develop a mixed-use project near downtown along Jesse Jewell Parkway, and city officials hope to enter into a development agreement with one of the bidders in the coming months.

The 2-acre site comprises parking lots between Main Street, Broad Street, Jesse Jewell Parkway and the former Gainesville Midland railroad land. Adjacent properties include the BB&T building and the Robson Events Center.

City officials said they hope the development will act as a sort of gateway to downtown, showcasing what the square has to offer to motorists traveling along Jesse Jewell who might be unaware of what awaits just up the road.

“It’s extending the square ... making an announcement that the square is here,” Assistant City Manager Angela Sheppard said.

The residential component of the development is critical to the live, work, play, shop ideal established by city officials.

“Part of having a vibrant and active downtown is being sure there are people coming to the downtown that can sustain it on a regular basis,” Sheppard said.

City officials are in the process of reviewing the bids and will likely take a few months before settling on a winner.

“This isn’t anything we want to rush into,” Sheppard said, adding the project is too important to compromise with swift action.

The city is offering to sell or lease the land, and any development agreement would have to come before City Council for approval.

City officials said they are hoping a development can be finished in about three years.

A similar request for proposals to develop the land was initiated in 2011, but the city passed on those bids because they did not fit the aesthetic officials envisioned.

“They weren’t fully what the city had in mind,” Sheppard said.

However, City Manager Kip Padgett said one benefit of that failed attempt was it allowed the city to open discussions with Brenau University about the future of the Georgia Mountains Center.

Ultimately, Brenau acquired the center and embarked on a multimillion-dollar renovation.

Now, city officials are confident they can find the right development for the land, piggybacking on the draw of the Brenau Downtown Center.

Moreover, any development will be required to incorporate parking plans, such as expanding the deck at the center.

Part of the land slotted for redevelopment was once the site of the Cooper Pants factory, which burned in 1936 after a tornado ripped through the city, killing 60 to 70 workers. A memorial marker planned for the site is still on, city officials said.

“Although it is too early in the process to give specifics, we would make efforts to ensure a marker is incorporated,” Sheppard said.


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