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Gainesville waits for offers on old jail site in hopes of midtown revitalization
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The cleared 4-acre lot on Main Street that previously held the old Hall County jail is shown on Thursday in Gainesville. - photo by David Barnes

The old Hall County jail on Main Street in midtown Gainesville is just a memory as city officials wait for an offer on the property.

Looking out her office window, longtime income tax preparer Maria Enriquez said Thursday she saw all the brick and mortar removed over the past five months. Earlier this week, she said workers planted grass seeds on the cleared 4-acre parcel owned by the city. She said workers covered the site with hay to keep the seeds from being blown by the wind or eaten by birds.

Like other business owners in the area, Enriquez, who opened Maria’s Income Tax 15 years ago at 628 Grove St., wonders what the future holds for the highly visible tract just a couple of blocks away from downtown Gainesville.

“We need more activity here in this area,” Enriquez said. “That site is large enough for someone to develop a project that combines apartments with retail and a restaurant. We need more life here outside of the downtown area.”

Tony Paramore, who co-owns Gainesville Paint at 662 Main St., agrees with Enriquez.

“We’re a retail business. We’d like to see something there that brings more people to the midtown,” Paramore said.

A 68-foot-long mural highlighted with the words “Think Big” covers the side of the building where Gainesville Paint does business.

“You can get a full view of the mural now with the jail gone,” said Paramore of the mural showing scenes of the mountain and sea. He said the artwork was completed by his business partners — Allyson and Jason Everett — who also own and operate Gainesville Flooring next door.

“People come and have their picture taken in front of the mural,” Paramore said. “We want midtown to be a beautiful place that draws people to the area.”

In the seven years that she’s owned and operated her bakery, The Colored Egg at 610 Grove St., Kathy Wedegis said she never minded when it housed detainees for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement for a few years.

“It was operating until a few years ago,” Wedegis said. “It was nice to have them there for security.”

Wedegis said that whatever the city decides to have where the jail used to be will be worthwhile given the big investment public officials made in buying the property.

“I’ve heard maybe a park,” Wedegis said. “We’ll see.”

The city bought the property from Hall County for $7.2 million and entered into a lease agreement with the Corrections Corps of America to help fund those bonds. When CCA closed operations of the facility in December 2013, it left city taxpayers on the hook for a debt of more than $6 million.

The city accepted a low-bid offer of $377,000 from Tristar of America in Norcross to demolish the old jail and clear the 4-acre property.

Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said the lot has potential with the right project to continue revitalizing the midtown area.

“We’re excited,” Dunagan said. “I’d like to see a mix of residential and retail with a restaurant.”

The site’s proximity to the Midtown Greenway — a walking and jogging trail that links downtown and midtown through city parks — adds to the property’s value, Dunagan said. He added that the site is in the tax allocation district and would be eligible for incentives.

“We have had calls and people asking about the property,” Dunagan said. “We’ll listen and wait for the right offer.”

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