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Development brings tradeoffs in midtown Gainesville
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The Enclave housing development in midtown Gainesville, sits directly across the road from the Gainesville Housing Authority's apartments on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. - photo by Scott Rogers

Anthony Woodall wonders just how much new residents in midtown Gainesville are willing to withstand the daily sounds of metal clanging, machines roaring and railroad cars rumbling through.

This industrial sector of the city, bordered by Jesse Jewell Parkway, E.E. Butler Parkway, Queen City Parkway and Ridge Road, has a lot of character that might be described as stark, gritty and working-class.

There are manufacturers and plants billowing smoke here, and decades-old homes surrounded by mom-and-pop shops and diners. This is also where most of the city’s homeless sleep at night.

But Woodall, the owner of a sandblasting service in midtown, feels pushed out.

“I don’t remember how many businesses used to be here,” he said.

As redevelopment comes to this area of the city, beginning with new housing, there is concern about whether the city can strike a balance between needed economic growth and the consequences of gentrification.

Rose Johnson, executive director of the Newtown Florist Club civil rights organization, said she worries about the long-term impact redevelopment could have as “low-income people struggle to find places to live outside of the city that they can afford.”

“What new barriers to voting and inequality will we face in the future around issues of class that are a natural and perhaps even predictable result of gentrification?” she asked.

Several new housing developments are springing up in midtown, including Walton Summit, the mixed-income development replacing the former Atlanta Street public housing complex; and The Enclave, an upscale townhome development off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Frank Norton Jr., CEO of The Norton Agency real estate firm, said he has acquired land at the corner of Grove and High streets in midtown where he plans to break ground on a cottage home development next year, similar to his company’s rental Cottages on Enota, which fetch monthly rents of $1,500.

“We’re bullish on in-town housing,” Norton said, adding that he’ll be targeting a younger demographic than the other developments targeted more for families.

“I think our firm will be focusing in on pocket developments, not large-scale,” Norton said, adding that he hopes developments like his will promote communication and social living among residents — a neighborhood feel.

Rusty Ligon, Gainesville community development director, said new streetscaping along Main Street, expansion of the Midtown Greenway and acquisition of additional property for stormwater detention and park space are on the city’s radar for midtown.

“We expect continued strong interest in midtown in 2018 and beyond,” Ligon said, including for the old Hall County jail site. “The city believes this site will eventually be developed to include a multistory mixed-use development that will be a catalyst for additional development in the midtown area.”

Tim Evans, vice president of economic development at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said housing, in particular, will be a high priority.

“To keep development and rental costs down, developers may look to high-density development plans, compact floor plans, tax credit financing, street and public parking, and opportunities to leverage adjoining green space and public amenities,” he added.

For pastor Jerry Deyton, who runs a day center for the homeless in midtown, watching the changes taking place gives him pause about the future.  

“The city has big plans for that area,” he said. “They want to clean it up, build it up and make it real nice.”

Deyton hopes to someday open a new overnight shelter for the homeless in this part of the city, and he said he’s working with city and county officials to get it right. But nothing is guaranteed now.

“Slowly but surely,” he said, describing the way that older residents and businesses are being squeezed by new development. “That’s what they’re doing.”

For Woodall, the changes begin and end with money. He believes a growing tax base in midtown will cost the neighborhood its historic heart and charm.

“They tax like a gold mine, but they treat you like a junkyard,” Woodall said.