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City officials give update on Midtown projects
Office supply employees Michael Waters, right, and Greg Stenzel move box after box of office furniture inside the new Gainesville public safety building Tuesday morning.

The pedestrian bridge from downtown to Midtown should be complete by August, and the Midtown greenway should be ready for walkers and joggers in less than two years, city officials said Tuesday morning.

"It'll take about 18 to 24 more months for the greenway, and some people are thinking, ‘Gosh, it's been seven years in planning,' but we're determined to do this project right," said Jessica Tullar, Gainesville's special projects manager. "We're trying to identify funding sources to make it a reality."

Business owners and Gainesville leaders met at the Holiday Inn on Jesse Jewell Parkway on Tuesday for the Midtown update on the pedestrian bridge, public safety building, Midtown tax allocation district and opportunity zone tax credit available to businesses who create jobs in the downtown and Midtown areas.

"The tax allocation district encompasses downtown and Midtown and is another funding source for public improvements," Tullar said. "When we adopted it in 2006, it was in anticipation of the economy flourishing. It's been slower to get going, but we've had recent activity."

Tullar is snagging grants to repair sidewalks and help with landscaping and lighting. She's looking for more to help complete the greenway project and restore the tributary that runs along the walkway.

"Sometimes with government you put plans on the shelf ... now we turn it into reality and are starting the work," City Manager Kip Padgett said as he introduced updates on the pedestrian bridge.

Earlier Tuesday morning, the Gainesville Redevelopment Authority approved a $1.9 million contract with Rogers Bridge Co. of Covington to build the bridge, which will feature a concrete base and railing on the sides. Unlike most bridge designs, there won't be support beams in the middle where it crosses the road.

"It's not your standard pedestrian bridge, so we've very excited about it," Padgett said. "We've always envisioned a bridge to connect the economic downtown and economic Midtown. It's important not to lose sight of its original purpose."

City View, a planned high-rise hotel featured as the keystone of redeveloping Midtown, is paying for the bridge, and the city will later reimburse up to $3 million once a contract goes out for the proposed 10-story office building or hotel.

"Only then will the city reimburse for the bridge, so it's a win-win for both us and the developers," Padgett said. "It gives more incentive to move forward so they can get reimbursed for the bridge."

After demolition of the old public safety building at the beginning of December, construction will begin on the bridge at the beginning of February.

"It's a domino effect. One goes after another,"
Padgett said. He showed pictures of the new public safety building, featuring a large municipal court that holds 200 people and ample space for police and fire department staffs.

The picture that got the most reaction? The twisting red fire department slide.

"This slide was one of the hardest things to find to develop," Padgett said, laughing with the audience. "You can't have fire poles anymore due to liability, and a lot of fire departments are going to the slide. It took us a long time to find it."

An office supply company delivered furniture for the police department and Municipal Court building on Tuesday, and some city officials looked around with the goal of moving a police patrol into the basement in two weeks. At the new fire department, workers prepped the building to open in a month and a few placed tile around the fire department seal in the lobby floor.

Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce members and city officials hope the public investment in the downtown and Midtown spaces will spark private investment and businesses growth.

"A downtown says a lot about a community, especially the economic health of a community," said Kit Dunlap, president of the chamber. "Several years ago, we had a vision to look forward and ask ‘What's the next step?' and Midtown is that next step ... We would have been further along if the economy didn't take a big dip, but we're excited to see this move along now."