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Gainesville hopes to spur development by selling these two properties
The midtown end of the pedestrian bridge across Jesse Jewell Parkway from downtown Gainesville. - photo by Mario Sanchez

Gainesville is ready to take bids on two properties that officials have said will be key to downtown and midtown development.

The 6.8-acre property at the end of the pedestrian bridge over Jesse Jewell Parkway, which the city is referring to as the “City View Lot,” was purchased by the city in November 2018 for $10 million and is now up for sale. The 4-acre former Hall County Jail site at the intersection of Main Street and Parker Street in the midtown area, which the city has named the “Midtown City Block,” is also on the market. The city bought that land from Hall County in 2012 for $7.2 million.

Officials want to see “urban, mixed-use infill developments” where people could both live and go out to dinner or go shopping.

“For Downtown and Midtown Gainesville to reach its full potential, the area needs more people living within the central core, and additional opportunities for eating, shopping, leisure and gathering,” according to the city’s request for bids on the properties.

The developments would also be required to be pedestrian-friendly, and residential or office buildings would need to be a minimum of three stories. The City View Lot would need to have at least 10,000 square feet of retail, while the Midtown City Block property would need at least 5,000 square feet of retail.

“We envision the buildings on each site being multiple stories that are oriented towards the street with parking at either the interior of the project or within a deck,” City Manager Bryan Lackey said in an email Friday. “While each project should have an urban feel, they should also be consistent with and compliment (sic) the historical character of the downtown and midtown areas.”

The properties could go to either the same buyer or different buyers. That purchaser will be selected by a committee that will have city representatives but could also include people who are not city employees. The committee will narrow down the field of potential buyers and interview some about their plans for the property. The highest-ranked potential buyer would then be recommended to the City Council for awarding of the bid.

According to the request for bids, the land would go to the person with the idea deemed to be the best, not necessarily the buyer with the highest bid.

“Once the selection committee determines which proposers are short listed for the interview process, the sealed price envelopes will be opened and used as a component of the evaluation during the interview process,” Lackey said.

While municipalities need to sell land to the highest bidder, state laws allow local governments to create development authorities that have more flexibility in land sales. Lackey said the city’s development authority could become involved later in the process.

This file photo shows a billboard depicting an artist's rendering of the envisioned City View Center and pedestrian bridge.

The City View Lot was previously owned by developers who had plans to build a hotel with a conference center and two 11-story office buildings. Those plans never came to fruition, and the bridge leading from the Roosevelt Square area to the property has been nicknamed the “bridge to nowhere” because it was built before the land was ever developed. About an acre of the property previously housed Gainesville’s police and fire department headquarters. The land was sold to developers in 2008.

The Midtown City Block property previously housed the Hall County Jail, and that building was demolished in 2017. When the city bought the property, it entered into a lease agreement with the Correction Corps of America, using lease payments from CCA to pay the bonds. But when CCA left the jail in December 2013, the city was left with more than $6 million in debt.

Lackey said Friday the remaining debt on the jail site is $4.8 million.

Bids for the two properties need to be turned in to the city by 2 p.m. July 15.

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