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Gainesville City Council considers ways to improve quality of life
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Quality of life issues received the most time and attention Friday at the Gainesville City Council’s annual goal-setting retreat, with several proposals made to improve services and amenities for residents while also bolstering tourism. 

Councilman Sam Couvillon expressed interest in funding the development of a new youth sports complex.

The need is substantial, he said, adding that schools and neighborhood baseball fields and parks can no longer support the enrollment numbers in the city’s youth sports programs. Games are going longer into the night and starting earlier in the morning as a result of overcrowding. 

Several members of the council also expressed interest in revitalizing the Lake Lanier Olympic Center to encourage more kayak and rowing use at the facility. A vacant managerial position at the venue is expected to be filled in March. 

The council agreed ramping up beautification projects across the city could spur economic development by boosting tourism and drawing new businesses to the city.

Proposals include renovating Roosevelt Square, removing blight from the U.S. 129 corridor and establishing directional and welcome signs pointing visitors to the best places the city has to offer. Additionally, investing in redevelopment projects, such as refurbishing abandoned or unused buildings, could be critical to this effort. 

“Something over the years that we have worked on and will continue to work on, of course, is the aesthetic value to the community,” said Councilman George Wangemann, adding that making the city pleasant and appealing to people will help drive economic development. 

Of course, the downtown square is a huge part of the city’s legacy and a major incentive for people to visit Gainesville. It is one reason the city’s hotel/motel tax revenue has been higher every month so far this fiscal year than 2013. Officials said they want to continue to look for ways to improve the visitor experience in the square. 

Improving the quality of life for residents also entails funding public safety agencies. Some council members said they would like to see increased patrols of neighborhoods and subdivisions.

About 54 percent of the city’s budget is already directed toward public safety. The city is looking to hire two new code enforcement officers. 

Meanwhile, City Manager Kip Padgett said he wanted to better address stormwater issues, and several council members said it was imperative to expand sewer and water service. 

Council members said the retreat was important for building consensus and identifying budgetary priorities for the 2015 fiscal year. There had been concern that individual interests might supersede the common good, but officials said they came away optimistic about the prospects for the coming year. 

“It says to me that we have the same vision for the city,” said city spokeswoman Catiel Felts.