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Gainesville officials, businesses remain optimistic on future of Midtown
Developers are looking to attract more investment
A portion of the Midtown Greenway is open, leading pedestrians through Midtown Gainesville from Industrial Boulevard to Jesse Jewell Parkway. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times
The gleaming white pedestrian bridge spanning Gainesville’s Jesse Jewell Parkway doesn’t seem to fit in with the architectural landscape of 1980s-era brown brick government buildings.When it opened after several delays at the end of August, city officials called the press to capture Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan be the first to cross the bridge, holding the hands of two grandchildren, each taking steps that seemed to symbolize the city’s progress toward Midtown’s redevelopment.City officials took even more steps in the months that came before and the weeks that followed.Officials in the city’s planning department continue to work on a greenway project that seeks to make the district walkable, and years ago set up a special tax district to provide infrastructure funds to spur redevelopment.And Thursday, City Council agreed on a financing plan to buy the old Hall County Jail, which takes up a major block in the middle of the district on Main Street.It was the latest sign that city officials continue to march toward a 10-year-old plan for a renewed Midtown.But as those responsible for the complementary private investment in the district seem to be dragging their feet, public trust in the government’s investments isn’t as visible as the criticism.There’s the notorious nickname of “bridge to nowhere” used by many an online commentator, and the accusations that the bridge is a shining example of government waste.It’s easy to catch on to the meaning of the nickname.When ideas of the bridge were first conceived, the overhead walkway would connect the Georgia Mountains Center to a 250-room hotel and a high-rise office complex.But today, the city-owned convention center is soon to become a complex for Brenau University’s graduate students. And from there, the bridge leads to what is, so far, little more than a developer’s dream.The development planned on the other side of the pedestrian bridge was supposed to be the keystone project of the Midtown redevelopment plan.Back in 2008, when city officials were making plans to get out of an old police and fire station on the south side of Jesse Jewell by 2010 to make room for the new development, Lee Caswell, a representative from Gainesville City Center LLC (then called City View Center) said construction on the high-rise hotel and office building complex would begin in early 2009.The civil engineering plans developers submitted to the city for Phase I called for a 125,000-square-foot, nine-story office building and a three-story parking deck with 376 spaces.Developers told the city they wanted to build the bridge before the hotel, hoping it might make the site more attractive to convention center hotel operators.Fast forward one month shy of four years later.The city’s police and fire headquarters have moved to Queen City Parkway. But nothing rises higher on the Gainesville City Center property than a blade of grass.Caswell didn’t return calls for comment on the state of the development last week.But Gainesville City Manager Kip Padgett said the developers meet with city officials every few months to discuss the status of their project.In the last such meeting, the developers indicated their priority is now attracting a hotel operator, Padgett said.The economic recession has, at best, delayed plans for the original Phase I of the development as several office buildings currently sit vacant in the city.“There’s so much available office space right now in Gainesville I think they changed their focus (to) the hotel,” Padgett said.