Gainesville city officials hope to see more development in midtown, and some city-owned properties could be key to kicking off that change.
The city defines midtown as an approximately 350-acre section bordered by E.E. Butler Parkway, Jesse Jewell Parkway, Queen City Parkway and the railroad. The area is largely industrial, but some new restaurants and businesses are moving in and slowly changing the area.
City Manager Bryan Lackey said he hopes that trend continues.
“We’d like to see some catalyst projects start that will also go along with some other private investment in the area to see both a mix of retail and new housing options to match what’s already there,” he said.
Two properties the city already owns — the land on the southern end of the Jesse Jewell Parkway pedestrian bridge and the former Hall County Jail site on Main Street — could eventually be developed, which might encourage others to consider making the move to midtown.
In November, the city purchased the 6.8-acre lot at the end of the pedestrian bridge, paying $10 million to take over the contract from the Northeast Georgia Health System. Part of the deal with the health system included a stipulation that the land not be resold to a developer who would provide medical services or products, unless NGHS approved the transaction.
The land has been sitting empty for more than a decade, earning the bridge the local nickname of “bridge to nowhere.” Plans for the site announced by private developers in 2008 included a hotel and conference center, but the economic recession stalled that development.
Another property the city owns is the former jail site, a 4-acre piece of land the city hopes could be privately developed. The city paid the county about $7 million for the land, and the jail was demolished in 2017.
The city has been in discussion with developers for both sites, Lackey said.
“People in our community and throughout North Georgia and Atlanta understand that the city owns both properties and is what I call a willing property owner to have realistic discussions about what happens there,” Lackey said. “We’ve had a lot of people approach us, and we’re still in the conceptual phase on both of those, crafting ideas about what we can do with that.”
The city is trying to discourage some types of businesses in midtown and passed an ordinance in November banning several uses including homeless shelters, coin laundries, thrift stores and crisis centers.
Another project that could help with development in midtown is the Highlands to Islands Trail, a planned trail network in Gainesville and South Hall with some portions, including the Midtown Greenway, already open. Connecting downtown, midtown and other areas for pedestrians could encourage people to visit midtown, Lackey said.
Plus, the city already owns some land along the Midtown Greenway on Davis Street and hopes to create a pocket park along the greenway for people to stop and gather.
New businesses in midtown include Let There Be Rock, a music school on Main Street, and The Inked Pig, a barbecue restaurant also on Main Street.
Jimmy Ellis, co-owner of The Inked Pig, said the industrial feel of midtown aligns with overall trends of repurposing former industrial sites for retail or restaurants.
“What’s in right now is the industrial renovations and bringing up industrial buildings. ... This part of town is ideal for that,” Ellis said. “Also, parking is much nicer away from the square.”
Andrew Elliott, The Inked Pig’s other owner, said he sees potential in midtown and has enjoyed getting to know other business owners.
“The whole plan for this area just sounds like it’s going to grow,” Elliott said. “More businesses have been coming in recently. ... People are talking this area up.”