The pedestrian bridge over Jesse Jewell Parkway could become the “bridge to somewhere,” if plans announced Thursday by Gainesville officials come to fruition.
Pedestrians crossing the bridge from Roosevelt Square into the new development would first see restaurants or retail on either side, white in color to match the bridge.
A plaza area toward the back of that space would serve as a gathering spot in front of a four-story apartment building with a fitness club on the ground floor. The apartment complex’s pool and amenities would be behind the building, along with parking and two smaller four-story apartment buildings.
Across College Avenue and Main Street from the first phase of the development would be more apartments and about half the retail and restaurant space of the first phase.
Mayor Danny Dunagan said Gainesville is “popping,” noting yet-to-be-announced development plans from Doug Ivester for the vacant lot on the downtown square and a recently announced plan for a boutique hotel at the old First National Bank building.
“I’m very excited that we are going to have a bridge to somewhere, and it’s something that our community is going to be proud of for a long time,” he said of the bridge that quickly earned the moniker “bridge to nowhere” after original plans for the property fell apart amid the Great Recession.
Gainesville officials had recently been seeking mixed-use developments, hoping to bring more residents to downtown and midtown. The city issued a request for proposals earlier this year for the two midtown properties, also asking that developments be pedestrian-friendly, incorporating the Highlands to Islands Trail that winds through downtown into midtown.
City Manager Bryan Lackey said Atlanta developer Terwilliger Pappas’ idea was the best fit, in part because the firm wanted to develop both properties.
The 6.8-acre site at the end of the pedestrian bridge would become home to 220 apartments and 10,000 square feet of retail space, according to plans submitted by Terwilliger Pappas.
The second phase of the project will put 180 apartments and 5,000 square feet of retail space at the 4-acre site where the Hall County Jail once sat at the intersection of Main and Parker streets.
Terwilliger Pappas will spend about $80 million on the project, which is expected to take about four years to build. The city owns both properties and will sell them to developers, although City Manager Bryan Lackey said the sale price is still being negotiated. The pedestrian bridge lot’s assessed value, according to tax records, is about $1.6 million, while the old jail site is valued at about $1.3 million.
Terwilliger Pappas has completed 23 projects since it was founded in 2013, including developments in Decatur and Atlanta, along with apartments at Suwanee Town Center that opened last year.
Greg Power, Terwilliger Pappas’ executive vice president, said Thursday that the apartments in Gainesville would rent for about $1,200 to $2,000 a month.
Dunagan said he was looking forward to seeing more people living downtown.
“Ever since I’ve been on the council, and prior council members, we have wanted downtown living,” he said. “This will be a great asset for Brenau (University), for the students and their professors, and for residents at (Northeast Georgia Medical Center). In fact, I wouldn’t mind living over there once it gets built.”
Lackey said the development could help kick off growth in midtown.
“We think it’s just going to start a chain reaction, coming from downtown, it’s going to accentuate and actually make our downtown even better for more people as they flow along the (Highlands to Islands) trail system,” he said. “...It’s just going to jumpstart more and more development, redevelopment, from commercial, retail and even better industrial.”
Officials have identified midtown as an area with potential for growth and are working on other projects in the area, including a small park near the Georgia Chair Factory and a skate park at High and Pine streets.
The land at the southern end of the pedestrian bridge has long been identified by city officials as a property that could play a major role in midtown redevelopment.
About an acre of the pedestrian bridge property previously housed the city’s police and fire headquarters. Gainesville sold that land to developers in 2008 as the city was building a new public safety complex on Queen City Parkway. Those developers then acquired other pieces of land, bringing the total property size to 6.8 acres. Developers had planned to build a hotel with a conference center and two 11-story office buildings, but as the recession hit, those plans fell through.
When the city had sold the land to developers, however, it had entered into an agreement with the Gainesville Redevelopment Authority that required the developers to fund the design, permitting and construction of the pedestrian bridge. The city agreed to reimburse the developers when the project was done, or no later than Feb. 15, 2017.
In February 2017, the city upheld that agreement and paid the developers almost $2.5 million to reimburse them for the bridge, although nothing was ever built on the property after the bridge opened in 2012.
The city purchased the land back from developers in November 2018, paying $10 million and taking over a contract on the property from the Northeast Georgia Health System.
The former jail site has also been empty for several years, since the jail was demolished in 2017. The city paid Hall County $7.2 million for the property in 2012. When the city bought the property, it entered into a lease agreement with the Correction Corps of America, which was operating an immigrant detention facility there, using lease payments from CCA to pay the bonds. When CCA vacated the facility in 2013, the city was left with more than $6 million in debt. Lackey said Thursday the remaining debt is about $4.2 million.