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Gainesvilles pedestrian bridge opens over Jesse Jewell
Gainesville resident James Weber walks across the new pedestrian bridge Friday with his dog, Tebow. Weber was one of the first people to cross the walkway behind Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan and his two grandchildren. - photo by MICHELLE BOAEN JAMESON | The Times

It’s all connected.

Gainesville leaders Friday celebrated the opening of the new pedestrian bridge that spans Jesse Jewell Parkway, linking downtown and midtown areas of the city.

“It was very gratifying to know that we finally finished it,” Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said after walking across the bridge with his grandchildren, Bella Dunagan, 5, and Mills Lothridge, 6.

Gainesville spokeswoman Catiel Felts noted that the city has been working to connect the two areas in an effort to redevelop the midtown area.

Gainesville resident James Webber, who was walking with his dog across the bridge Friday morning, said it will be a great addition, adding that crossing the road before was “a handful.”

“It’s about time that they put a bridge over here,” he said.

The bridge is anchored on one side by the Georgia Mountains Center, for which Brenau University has signed a 10-year lease agreement with plans to convert it to classrooms for graduate-level health care programs.

The lot on the other side of the bridge is currently empty, though Gainesville leaders are hoping to attract a hotel and office building.

Dunagan said Friday that developers are talking with a major hotel chain, but he had few other details. That’s a long way from two years ago, though, when there were no discussions at all due to the sluggish economy, he said.

The city is depending on a hotel or office complex coming to that lot.

The current agreement between City Council, the Redevelopment Authority and the City View Developer states that they will not be reimbursed for the bridge until one of the following occurs: 1) A certificate of occupancy is issued for an office building, or 2) a development agreement satisfactory to the city is entered into with a hotel developer. The agreement does not require repayment until then.

City Manager Kip Padgett has said that city officials have identified economic development funds to be used for the repayment.

Until that development comes to fruition, the bridge crosses Jesse Jewell to an empty space near the CVS pharmacy.

Felts said some redevelopment on the midtown side is already happening, with a few businesses near the midtown greenway sprucing things up.

“It’s kind of like when you’re in a neighborhood and your neighbor cuts their grass and then you look at your grass and you’re like — we all wanna keep up, if you will,” she said.

And that’s what city officials are hoping for.

Times staff writer Lee Johnson contributed to this report.

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