Perhaps Gainesville’s “bridge to nowhere” might one day actually lead to a convention center.
“It’s a big idea,” Gainesville school board member Sammy Smith told members of the City Council during a joint meeting Wednesday, adding that a several-thousand seat arena could be used to host graduations and other school events, not to mention conventions.
When the pedestrian bridge spanning Jesse Jewell Parkway opened in 2012, its promise seemed near at hand.
City officials had pined for a new hotel, office or even a convention center on one end anchoring a reimagined midtown, with City Hall, Roosevelt Square and downtown linked via the 10-foot-wide, 450-foot span.
However, when nothing materialized, the $3 million investment turned a vacant lot’s best use into overflow parking for downtown events.
In the past 12 months, city officials have focused instead on redeveloping other nearby blocks.
This included tearing down the old county jail at a cost of $377,000 in the hopes of attracting new interest in commercial or residential uses for the property on Main Street in midtown.
And city officials have approved using up to $4 million in property tax revenues to help fund construction of new office, retail and residential projects in downtown and midtown.
Councilman Sam Couvillon said that while it’s clear officials would like to see a convention center open in Gainesville, he doesn’t have interest in a public-private endeavor to share the costs.
Whether it’s only encouragement officials might give to such a project, Smith said he sees new demand for it as construction mows through Gainesville.
The city has issued a record number of construction permits over the past three years,
And tourism is at all-time highs. Visitor spending in Hall County, for example, hit a record $314 million in 2016, according to state figures.
Mayor Danny Dunagan echoed Smith’s call to begin considering how a convention center could build upon what’s offered at the Brenau Downtown Center.
A feasibility study to help determine economic, traffic, environmental and quality of life impacts of a convention could be a next step if city officials proceed.
But getting the most out of the pedestrian bridge remains a sticky proposition.
“We don’t know … if this is truly feasible,” Smith said.