Another piece of the midtown revitalization plan that was started a decade ago is officially complete.
Nearly 100 people attended the opening ceremony Tuesday afternoon for the bright white pedestrian bridge that spans Jesse Jewell Parkway in Gainesville.
Instead of the traditional ribbon cutting, city officials celebrated the grand opening with a puzzle.
Representatives of local businesses, restaurants, schools, clubs and city officials fit photos of their activities around a central photo of the new bridge to symbolize the ways the city is connected.
Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan told the crowd the bridge is ultimately about connectivity between downtown and midtown. He said the bridge will also serve as an engine for economic development.
“Construction of this bridge changes the landscape of our city forever, and because of this we are confident this is the bridge to the future,” Dunagan said.
The bridge is located next to the Georgia Mountains Center. Brenau University has signed a 10-year lease for the center and intends to convert it into graduate-level health care classrooms.
The other end of the bridge is located in an empty lot, next door to CVS Pharmacy.
City officials would like to see a hotel built on the property.
Developer Wendell Starke said he would like to cooperate with that wish. Starke said the property was purchased in 2007 and plans for a large hotel and conference center were halted after the economy slowed.
Starke said he has continued to make contact with major hotels and feels optimistic about the development’s future, calling it the “site of what will be the greatest growth in Gainesville.”
But he said there are no concrete plans for the property yet. The intention is to build a large hotel or conference center on or very near the site.
“We do see that people are willing to talk about construction today,” Starke said. “For the last four years, most boards of directors for big companies were not allocating money to build hotels. We take that as a good change.”
Some local residents strolling through downtown Gainesville also see good changes on the horizon.
Before the ceremony began, three local women took a break from their downtown shopping trip to walk across the bridge for the first time.
“If I lived in town it would be really nice because you don’t have to get into all the traffic down there,” Betty Gillstrap of Murrayville said, pointing to the busy four-lane roadway below. “It’s much safer, especially for the people at the motel who are going to the Georgia Mountains Center.”