Gainesville Parks and Recreation wants to leave no park untouched by the end of this decade. While lots of time and resources are going toward improvements along the Midtown Greenway where the beloved Engine 209 has a new home, city officials are trying to make sure that all parks are shown some love.
Gainesville’s Parks and Recreation Departments has more than 50 projects in the works right now, Kate Mattison, the city’s parks and recreation director, said.
Since the city’s 2030 Master Plan came out two years ago, “we have touched 12 of our 21 parks with some sort of renovation or improvement or added amenity,” she said.
Engine 209 Park
The new Engine 209 Park was supposed to be completed last November, but, like most projects over the last two years, it hit some supply chain snags and was delayed with more rain than expected. The city is investing about $2 million of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds into the Midtown Greenway area, which includes creating a new park around the train at the corner of Grove and Davis streets.
The new Engine 209 Park will have a large plaza area, playground, a boardwalk over a pond at the old train wye and permanent seating around the train giving it more accessibility than its longtime spot at the corner of Jesse Jewell Parkway and West Academy Street. The new location is an old rail line wye, which is where three rail lines intersect in a “Y” shape.
“It’s going to greatly improve your ability to interact with the train,” Mattison said. “Previously there wasn’t really any parking around it. It wasn’t in a good spot. It was on a really busy street. This really gives you an opportunity to hang out with the train.”
The city will add signage to share history about the train, the Midland railroad and the area, Mattison said. The park should be done sometime this spring, Mattison said.
With the train as a centerpiece, Mattison said that area of Gainesville could rebrand as the Midland arts district, with more murals and other public art to give the area more personality.
“We’re trying to get additional public art here (Engine 209 Park),” she said. “There’s talk of putting something into the pond. … We’re getting a huge dog piece of metal art down by where our new dog park is going to be.”
Dog park and Midtown Greenway upgrades
The dog park will be at 682 Grove St. with funding help from McNeal Development, which is building a 214-unit apartment complex next door.
Near the main entrance to the greenway, the city has other big improvements planned including a covered stage and a new playground with a focus on accessibility for physically disabled people.
“All of the pieces are built with different abilities in mind,” Councilwoman Juli Clay said.
For example, there will be special swings fit for wheelchairs to easily roll into, special rubbery material on the playground designed for those with sensory issues and more shaded areas
The 89-acre J. Melvin Cooper Youth Sports Complex should begin construction soon, Mattison said.
The complex, which will be located at 2490 Old Cornelia Highway, will contain five ball diamonds, one multi-purpose field, a walking path, track and a playground.
The complex will be named after Melvin Cooper, Gainesville’s longtime parks director, who spent 47 years with the city and retired in 2019.
“We’re hoping that they’ll be breaking ground on that site by late spring, early summer,” Mattison said. “That means that they will have almost a year of dirt moving.”
The project will take about two years to complete once construction begins.
An outdoor fitness area is coming to the corner of Ridgewood Terrace and Wilshire Road.
The fitness court will have box jumps, pull-up bars and other fitness equipment, Mattison said, and they plan to install a 40-foot mural on one side painted by a local artist.
Work is expected to start in the spring, she said. The small park will connect with the Highlands to Islands Trails system.
At Wessell Park, they plan to install the city’s first 18-hole disc golf course.
“We’re calling it the ‘Woods at Wessell,’ because it primarily is going to go through that 10 acres that’s actually in the woods,” Mattison said.
Myrtle Street Park was recently approved for grant funds to add a mini-soccer field with artificial turf.
The mini-field is a 60-foot by 90-foot lighted court with artificial turf and smaller goals, with fencing all around. It will also likely come with some spectator seating, and turf fields like this are growing in popularity in the South.
The Highlands to Islands trail will be fully connected soon thanks to a $785,000 donation from Pilgrim’s Pride. The Hall County and Gainesville trail system will eventually span 54 miles from Gainesville to Braselton. The trail system, being funded largely by Hall County’s SPLOST, has been in development for years. The donation from Pilgrim’s will help connect the 2.2-mile downtown section of the trail to a 3.5-mile section that runs through the south of the city along Atlanta Highway.
City Park will also get some love with new scorekeeper stands and sidewalk improvements.
Collectively, the park improvements help inspire more economic growth as well.
“These are all things that activate different parts of the city,” Clay said. “This definitely makes it more appealing… Instead of just being in downtown, now it’s expanded where people see viable development”