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Gainesville's downtown square bigger draw than ever
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While it’s no secret the downtown square is Gainesville’s centerpiece, the last year has proven what a major draw it is for residents and tourists alike. 

That was one takeaway from the daylong retreat the City Council took Friday to begin outlining goals and budget priorities for the next fiscal year.

City officials actively promote the square, and with a new Convention and Visitors Bureau in place, marketing is expected to ramp up.

That could mean big things for local businesses.

The square has a 95 percent occupancy rate, with three new businesses opening in 2014 and more than 30 new jobs created.

Rahab’s Rope expanded to a new location, and Naturally Posh Photography was the first recipient of a grant to refurbish the store’s exterior facade.

City officials are working to release a digital, geographic information system downtown business inventory map that will allow users to scroll over locations and find details about vacant building space.

The square hosted more than 80 events last year, including the annual Spring Chicken Festival, drawing record crowds of more than 80,000 people.

Regina Mansfield, manager of Main Street Gainesville, which promotes businesses in the square, said she is working to grow membership roles and that social media has been a huge benefit in attracting people to the square.

The square’s draw is partly reflected in growing hotel/motel tax revenue, which continues to increase nearly every month over month.

It is also reflected in the nearly $3 million invested by local businesses in the square last year.

Mansfield said she is looking to provide one local business a “makeover” in 2015 as a way to say thanks for all it brings to Gainesville.

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