Gainesville Mayor-elect Sam Couvillon, like Mayor Danny Dunagan before him, said downtown doesn’t have a parking problem, it has a walking problem.
His vision of downtown may remove some parking spaces from the square in favor of a more inviting and walkable center.
Couvillon, 51, suggested taking out some of the planters at the corners of the square so that more vendors could use the space for Gainesville’s farmer’s market events and so people could walk with less impediment.
“I feel like right now we just shovel people in through these corners,” he said, gesturing toward the paths that lead to the Confederate statue, Old Joe, at the center of the square. “There’s so much more potential for what we can do downtown.”
With one parking deck on Main Street and another nearing completion on the other side next to the Gainesville Library, Couvillon said there will be enough parking, and better walkability could ultimately help small businesses. But any plan for the square would have to go through Hall County, which owns that land in the center of town.
“Anything we do, we need them to sign off on it,” Couvillon said, whether that means the city eventually purchasing the land or signing an intergovernmental agreement.
Couvillon, who works in insurance at Turner, Wood & Smith, has spent the last eight years on Gainesville City Council and will flip seats with Dunagan starting in January after winning election against Devin Pandy in November.
He graduated from the University of Georgia in 1994, where his father, Gary Couvillon, taught for more than 40 years. His oldest daughter decided to be a Bulldog too and graduated this December.
And when he was a younger student, Couvillon was almost preparing for a position like this.
“It’s just kind of in my blood,” he said. “When I was in the eighth grade, I was the class president of the eighth grade. When I was in high school, I was on the student council. I’ve always been involved.”
He had originally planned on running for school board in 2013. But, Couvillon said, County Commissioner Jeff Stowe told him he ought to run for city council instead once Dunagan announced his bid for mayor.
And once Dunagan decided he wouldn’t run for re-election this past spring, Couvillon decided to run for the spot. He said he’s looking forward to keeping the current city council together after it didn’t see any changes in personnel this past election cycle.
He has talked about sunsetting the Midtown TAD district, which has helped facilitate development in downtown Gainesville with significant projects like Gainesville Renaissance and The National benefiting from tax abatements.
But once new apartment complexes are built, the city will see more of a traffic problem, and Couvillon said he wants to try to be proactive in alleviating some of the city’s major roadways. Unfortunately, many of the city’s highest traffic thoroughfares are state highways, including Dawsonville Highway and Green Street/Thompson Bridge Road.
But the city does what it can to get major projects on these roads going, Couvillon said.
“Locally what we have done as a council is committed funds to help with the design of the project,” he said of the widening of Green Street, which is expected to take place in 2024-2025. Committing some local funds to state projects can give a local government preference over other areas in the state which don’t provide as much of their own stake.
But there are improvements that can be made locally as well. He wants to divert traffic off of Dawsonville Highway through a road that would connect Green Hill Circle or Elita Drive to Shallowford Road, he said.
“When you leave Chick-fil-A now everyone has to go to that stop light and go onto Dawsonville Highway,” Couvillon said. “Well if we can get 25-30% of the traffic to turn right and go up to Shallowford, then you’re alleviating some of the traffic off of Dawsonville Highway. … These are little things… those are things that can help.”
The city could also help traffic by making intersections smarter. The city already has the ability to manually control traffic lights at many intersections downtown, he said, and he would like to expand this technology farther down Dawsonville Highway and other intersections to quickly respond to traffic issues.
“I think what I bring is a level-headed guy that wants to work through issues and help move Gainesville forward,” he said. “That’s what I hope to continue to do.”