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Economic officials focus on redeveloping downtown
Small businesses key to pumping up Gainesville, chambers small business manager says
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Redeveloping downtown and attracting industry are the keys to success in 2011, Gainesville-Hall County Economic Development Council officials told Gainesville City Council members Thursday.

The economic development council is setting goals for 2011, with the idea of bringing businesses into Gainesville's downtown and Midtown areas.

At the end of January, city staff issued a request for proposals to reshape 4 acres near the square, including the Georgia Mountains Center and the two parking lots at Main and Maple streets that face Jesse Jewell Parkway.

"The RFP has been an exciting release for developers interested in downtown since we have the opportunity zone there for tax credits," said Tim Evans, Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce's vice president for economic development.

"There's a lot more to talk about now that things are moving and happening."

The city has already received several calls, City Manager Kip Padgett said.

"We're also trying to do what we can with the City View hotel and office site, and the pedestrian bridge should help generate some activity," Evans said.

"We sent letters to Midtown owners about the changes and encouraged them to keep their property up. I got a call from one property owner who has six or seven parcels of land and received six or seven letters. I think people are paying attention."

Future growth likely will come in industry, Evans said.

"The different industrial parks have been successful over the years, and we have to keep up the momentum," Evans said. "We want to provide the best business environment here."

That means officials should start looking now for larger parcels of land, he added.

"We're looking at where we're going to find the next 50-acre site in Gainesville," Evans said. "If we don't have that access and zoning to offer, we're missing out on quite a few large projects that the state and other partners will be looking for."

U.S. 129 and Ga. 365 may be the next corridors for development, he said.

"When I first started on the council years ago, we were looking at 365," council member George Wangemann said.

"It fizzled out, but I think it has great potential."

Development also depends on education, transportation and quality of life factors, which is why the economic development council is voicing support of 1-cent local option sales tax votes for education and transportation.

"We're doing most of the marketing for e-SPLOST this time through social media, e-mails and Facebook to talk to the people who are for it," said chamber president Kit Dunlap. "If the turnout is expected to be less than 10 percent ... we've got to have about 4,000 votes, and a new Fair Street school is desperately needed."

Leadership Hall County members also promoted pro-development ideas at the Gold Dome on Thursday.

"I'm on my way to the Capitol to deliver our chicken boxes, which includes our cities and companies and some goodies," Dunlap said, passing around a chicken-shaped box. "They'll be all over the Capitol in all of the offices. Everyone knows where we're from with those chicken boxes."

The final aspect of pumping up Gainesville's business community is connecting with the small businesses, said Jean McCullough, the chamber's new small business manager.

"We need to tap into what they need and hear from them," she said. "We're hosting small business seminars, such as creating a presence on the Web and knowing your customer.

In this economic climate, they need to know how to put energy into their current customers."

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