Downtown and midtown development, expanding public transportation and road infrastructure projects, and improving code enforcement and public safety were among the priorities for 2017 identified by the Gainesville City Council during its annual retreat at the Fair Street neighborhood center on Friday.
City officials recently announced plans to demolish the old county jail in the midtown district to spur new residential and commercial development, and also prepared a “request for proposals” to generate interest in a mixed-used project on two city-owned parking lots downtown facing Jesse Jewell Parkway.
“It was a very good day,” Councilwoman Ruth Bruner said of Friday’s discussions on economic development. “We’re really excited about the next year.”
Bruner said she expects the city, with growing revenues, to expand sidewalk improvement and road-paving projects in the city center to help businesses grow.
Councilman George Wangemann echoed those statements.
“The city is in very good financial shape,” he said. “But we’ll have to make sure we prioritize appropriately.”
Planning officials are hoping to improve the availability and quality of affordable housing in the city through stronger code enforcement measures.
Improving substandard homes and rooting out slumlords is both an economic development and public safety issue, Wangemann said.
“We’ve got a ways to go yet,” he added. “We’ve got to fix the problems we have currently.”
Wangemann said he hopes to see local law enforcement provided with additional resources to address both violent and property crime in lower-income neighborhoods while supporting families in need with better economic opportunities.
Councilman Sam Couvillon said he expects the city to move forward with developing a new fire station this year using special purpose local option sales tax revenue, and additional stations could be added in the next five years along Dawsonville Highway and the south part of the city to meet growing demand for service.
Traffic relief and expanding public transportation is one of the most pressing needs and desires city officials hope to continue addressing this year.
The development of a new Lanier Technical College campus off Ga. 365 in North Hall, coupled with the growth of business and industry in that area around the Gateway Industrial Centre, makes expanding transport service critical for both workers and students who reside in the Gainesville city limits, officials said.
In South Hall, providing residents with transportation to jobs, shopping centers and education in Gwinnett County and Atlanta also requires expanding service, and solutions could come from possibly connecting and cooperating with neighboring counties. It may also mean looking to the private sector for cost-sharing agreements.
Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center, said she is exploring options to grow ridership and extend the hours and routes of the local public transport service with consultants. She plans to unveil specific new options for city officials to consider in March.
Developing partnerships with businesses and other local governments is something City Manager Bryan Lackey said is a positive new initiative.
“I’m excited about that,” he added.