The estimated $2 million two-phase renovation effort for the Midland Greenway area is steadily gaining steam.
The project will include the installation of a new plaza with playscape elements such as a playground, swings and possibly a splash pad installed at the intersection of Grove and Davis streets, a section being called “the Wye.”
“This is an area we completed last year when we completed the greenway and landscaping there,” said Rusty Ligon, director of community and economic development for the city of Gainesville at a March 17 Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce event. “But our parks and recreation department will be taking this park space and taking it to the next level.”
Ligon highlighted the aesthetic feature of the Wye area and its proximity to the “Love Freedom” mural that was unveiled on the back wall of McGarity's Business Products on Grove Street last fall.
According to Gainesville Parks and Recreation Director Kate Mattison, the design and permitting process for the project is completed and construction could begin in May, contingent on the bidding process in April.
“We identified that spot as a great place for a playground and areas for new picnic spots,” she said. “We’re really excited to start making headway in a really great part of Gainesville.”
The project is funded through the special-purpose local-option sales tax or, SPLOST, and the city is now accepting bids for the project.
“For this (first phase) of the project, we have budgeted $900,000, and for the second phase we have about $1.1 million.” said Mattison “We are in the process of ensuring that we stay within our budget for the first phase, that way we can be able to smoothly transition into phase two.”
The second phase of renovations could also take place during the next fiscal year, with improvements to the park’s 682 Grove St. entrance.
According to Mattison, details for the second phase of improvements have not been finalized, however, a large-scale ADA-compliant playground has been discussed.
“The next phase is funded in (the fiscal year 2022) and we will get into the design and development phase beginning in July,” Mattison said in an early-March interview.
The Midland train Engine 209 is one of the more familiar iconographs in downtown Gainesville. But the train stationed at the intersection of Jesse Jewell Parkway and W. Academy Street could find a new home as a part of the project.
“There has been quite a bit of discussion about potentially moving the Midland train,” said Mattison. “The discussion has always been that we should move it so it’s in a better location for people to access it and look at it and is not on such a heavily trafficked area.”
Mattison said that the overall $2 million price tag for the project could increase depending on the cost of relocating the train.
Mattison said that while plans to relocate the train have not been finalized, there have been serious discussions between Parks and Recreation staff on the feasibility of physically moving it.
Mattison said that crews would transport two train cars — approximately 150 feet in length — to the new site. A track would need to be laid down in the Wye area, pushing the total length of the train setup to 200 feet.
But how would city officials go about moving it? One method Mattison mentioned would involve using a crane to lift the train cars onto a lowboy trailer.
“There are a lot of drawbacks to that method in regards to the utilities,” said Mattison. “Depending on how tall the train is on that lowboy, can it fit underneath traffic signals, power lines? Or do you have to (remove overhead utilities), transport the train cars, and put the (utilities) back up.”
Jessica Tullar, the city’s housing and special project manager, who has experience with work in the Midland Greenway area said that new additions, both concrete and proposed, are a part of the larger vision.
“I worked on the GDOT grant project, which involved continuing the Midtown Greenway trail from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Industrial Boulevard and included the railroad Wye area,” she said. “The new projects — train relocation, hardscapes, playscape elements and the current bids — are part of a larger vision for the park space.”