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Bruner making progress, slowly, on city goals
Mayor talks of making Gainesville regional tourism hub
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In January, Ruth Bruner took Gainesville's gavel for the rotating two-year mayoral position and proposed a few changes to attract tourism, downtown loft apartments and public access to Lake Lanier.

Though the economy has slowed progress on several initiatives, Bruner is looking forward to moving ahead with the same goals in 2011.

"Hopefully the economy is showing some signs of getting better," she said. "We're seeing an uptick in the sales tax, and I hope it will be a better year for continued progress."

As she was installed for the two-year term, Bruner talked about making Gainesville a regional tourism hub, encouraging developers to build condominiums and loft apartments in the top floors of downtown and midtown buildings and making the lake more accessible to the general public.

Bruner also asked the council to spearhead a communitywide effort to stabilize and improve the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue.

"These are tough times economically for everyone in the country," Bruner said in January. "But the good thing is that the recession has given us time to think, to plan, to regroup. We're going to be poised and ready when the economy turns around to address some needs we have had to defer."

City staff began a few moves this year that will make Bruner's plans a reality in the next few years.

Tracy Whitmire, hired as the tourism director, has visited several popular lake venues, promoted the FLW Outdoors' Forrest Wood Cup tournament in August and will soon unveil the new city website.

"She's been able to sell Gainesville and work on Gainesville by itself but also as part of the region," Bruner said Thursday. "She's spent the last few months getting everything going and trying to bring new things to Gainesville to make the city better known."

With a focus on the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue, Whitmire has welcomed teams from around the country.

"We have a long way to go on the venue, but we're making progress," Bruner said. "We're talking to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, our representatives and incoming county commissioners about being proactive about the venue. I'm hopeful that in the next year or two, we'll see action in improving it."

Making the lake more accessible to the public is also a few years off, but Bruner said she's hearing more talk about developing an area with restaurants and boat rentals.

When Lose and Associates worked with Gainesville's Parks and Recreation department in early October to update its Vision 2014 comprehensive plan, a few residents mentioned the possibility of a blueway, which is a waterway trail set up similar to the multi-use greenway being constructed in Gainesville's midtown.

"Most of us don't use the lake other than what we see from a bridge or park, so that's still a need that's not being accomplished," Bruner said. "We need something out there, such as a shuttle service, that can get people to the lake."

One possibility includes sprucing up Holly Park off Thompson Bridge Road for public and private investment.

"We've had to neglect that park for the last several years, and there are always ideas of renting it out or using it as a possible site," Bruner said. "These are the kinds of things we need to have more of in Gainesville."

Loft apartments in the downtown area are another unique asset but directly tied to development in the midtown area, Bruner noted.

"We haven't made much progress there, and the economy being so rocky is hampering new building of homes of any kind," she said. "With the heavy emphasis on midtown and the greenway and the pedestrian bridge, I think it'll draw people to live downtown. It's starting to pay off, but it'll be really pretty to see a paved and lit greenway, which should encourage construction near there."

As demolition of the old public safety complex on Jesse Jewell Parkway starts Dec. 15, Bruner is most looking forward to the focus on completing the greenway trail.

"In 2011, I'd also like to see some movement on the fieldhouse (at Bobby Gruhn Stadium) if we can work together with the community and school board to move forward," she said. "We should also keep trying to look at the Georgia Mountains Center in new ways that it can be used."

For Mayor Pro Tem Danny Dunagan, the council's focus will remain on midtown and the Lake Lanier venue.

"We need to start talking with the county after the first of the year about issues and how we can enhance it to bring it to where it should be," he said. "It's an asset we need to take advantage of when visitors are coming in."

Dunagan echoed Bruner's thoughts about this year's slow movement forward on her January goals and foresees 2011 being better.

"I think there's a lot of promise for the next year. It's a sign of the times that we're not getting activity with some of these things, but I'm looking forward to getting the bridge built," he said. "I think we're heading in the right direction."