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Guest column: Approving SPLOST can deliver communitys vision
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Vision 2030: The Future is Ours to See.

It may sound cliché to some, but when Gainesville-Hall County resoundingly embraced the Vision 2030 initiative four years ago, residents made it clear they wanted to be part of crafting our collective future. Now, with the sales tax referendum for SPLOST VI, we have the chance to make it happen.

Back in 2005, more than 1,000 citizens participated in numerous Vision 2030 meetings throughout every corner of Hall County. Individuals were asked to sit around tables, often with total strangers, and identify positives and negatives in our community. Then, they started dreaming, and participants were quite passionate in describing their vision of what could be and what they wanted for future generations.

It was a process over a year in the making and one that reached out to all ages and all ethnicities. More than 4,000 ideas were generated, then categorized for further review by committees. The final Vision 2030 document completed in June 2006 included all these ideas and a suggested framework on how to make them a reality.

We presented this document to the public and asked citizens to rank the ideas most important to them. You spoke and we listened, and that has resulted in the "Vision 2030 - 15 Big Ideas." It is a list of the most important initiatives and projects for Gainesville-Hall County over the next two decades.

Today, we face a wonderful opportunity to move forward on these goals and endorse the hard work behind Vision 2030 by voting in support of the SPLOST VI initiative on March 17 (early voting is under way).

So why, you may ask, is the SPLOST VI vote so important to Vision 2030 and our citizens' vision of the future? The answer lies in the fact that eight of the 15 big ideas identified in the Vision 2030 plan are proposed for funding within the SPLOST VI initiative:

1. State of the art hotel and conference center in downtown Gainesville. This was a No. 1 priority for Vision 2030 as a catalyst for redevelopment in the downtown and midtown areas. Far too long, our community has lost the opportunity to gain from those visiting our community.

SPLOST VI includes funding for Gainesville to move this project forward by relocating its Public Safety Building and Fire Station No. 1 to a new location in Midtown.

2. A model community for providing high-quality, affordable health care to residents. SPLOST funds Vision 2030's ambitious plan for "community wellness" by designating $21 million in parks, supporting a culture of community fitness through recreation. Funds also go toward preservation of open space for all to enjoy, a key Vision 2030 priority.

3. Relocation of the Green Street Post Office to Midtown Gainesville in order to protect and enhance the historic Green Street area. SPLOST VI allocates investment toward the relocation of the post office to help jumpstart Midtown development. Residents throughout Hall County identified this project as one of their top three issues, citing concerns with safety, better accessibility and historic preservation.

4. The highest amount of greenspace of any urban county in Georgia. A highlight of this initiative is a network of pathways connecting North Hall, Gainesville and South Hall. SPLOST VI is crucial to this goal in that it funds the second phase of the Central Hall Multi-Purpose Trail.

Once completed, this 13-plus mile pedestrian/bike path will allow travel from downtown Gainesville to South Hall and back.

5. A regional center for health care education, employment and life sciences. Northeast Georgia Medical Center is a key player in this goal with its plans to establish a second campus in South Hall. SPLOST funds the necessary road and sewer utilities for construction of this facility.

6. A state-of-the-art visitors center near Interstate 985 that is considered a national model. SPLOST funds are designated toward construction of this facility at the intersection of I-985 and Mundy Mill Road at Exit 16. This Vision 2030 initiative creates an opportunity to lure more visitors and their dollars to our community.

7. Highway bypasses around Gainesville to lessen traffic on Green Street. SPLOST funds are designated for the planned Sardis Road Connector between Dawsonville Highway and Thompson Bridge Road, the first major leg of a Gainesville bypass.

8. "A community of towns" that connects its residents, workers and visitors. SPLOST VI supports this "Big Idea" of Vision 2030 with downtown streetscapes, parks and sidewalks identified by municipalities across Hall County. Downtown and Midtown redevelopment also are a major focus of SPLOST funds, including rehabilitation of the historic courthouse in Downtown Gainesville.

With an affirmative vote in the ongoing SPLOST referendum, we take a big step toward reaching the citizen priorities highlighted above while endorsing the hard work behind Vision 2030.

That's why I strongly urge everyone to vote "yes" for SPLOST VI. And then pinch yourself, because we really can begin to see our dreams come true.

Rob Fowler is chairman of the Vision 2030 Board of Directors.

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