When Tom Pagano steps outside to walk his dogs, Jackeen and Ralphie, instead of walking under a couple trees and through patchy grass, they now walk through a park.
The Dean Jones Family Park, a pocket park just off the roundabout at Lights Ferry Road and Mitchell Street near the South Hall city’s downtown and steps from Pagano’s home, is a much appreciated addition to the city, and Gainesville is about to get similar treatment.
A pocket park is “a small outdoor space, usually no more than ¼ of an acre,” according to the National Recreation and Park Association.
“I think it’s nice,” Pagano said of the park while holding his dog’s leashes. “It’s a nice place. I come here with the dogs every once in a while to just hang out when the weather’s nice. It's a comfortable little place.”
The Gainesville Renaissance project coming to the square has promises of a $300,000 pocket park that will serve as a connector between Roosevelt Park and the square. Right now, there’s not much other than a small parking lot with broken asphalt and a concrete walkway lined with four benches and four light posts under the shade of a couple oak trees. There’s a patch of 12 crepe myrtles there, too, and another spot with some bushes and a couple of other small trees.
But soon, Fred Roddy, CEO of Roddy Properties and the developer for the property, hopes the space will become a more attractive area where the community will be able to relax and walk between downtown events.
“It's one of our ways to give back,” Roddy said. “And one of the things we talked about a lot over the last couple of months is the need to create that visual corridor there between Roosevelt Park and the square. Right now, it’s cluttered, and there's parking in there and we want to clean it up and create that linkage. It needs it.”
While it won’t look quite like the pocket park in Flowery Branch, which is mostly grass and plants with a couple of stone pathways and an arbor with swinging benches, Gainesville’s pocket park will be used as more of a thoroughfare.
“Our mission is really about transitioning between those two activity centers of the square,” Roddy said.
Exact plans for what the pocket park between the courthouse and new development on the fourth side of the square will look like are still in the works, but Roddy said it won’t be a recreational park.
Even so, he said there won’t be too much “hard surface.” The Dean Jones Family Park in Flowery Branch is more of a recreational park but is used in a way similar to how Roddy hopes Gainesville’s will be used.
“In the summertime, I see a couple people over here,” Pagano said of the park. “And I do see a couple parents here with their kids on a Sunday.”
That’s the hope for the pocket park coming to Gainesville, just to the east of the new Gainesville Renaissance development, which will likely have two restaurants and eight or nine condominiums, as well as some office and retail space.
As will be the case in Gainesville, pocket parks are often in “urban open spaces on a small-scale and provide a safe and inviting environment for surrounding community members. They also meet a variety of needs and functions, including: small event space, play areas for children, spaces for relaxing or meeting friends, taking lunch breaks, etc.,” according to the National Recreation and Park Association.
That’s Roddy’s and the city of Gainesville’s exact vision. While the space will serve as a more attractive, seamless transition between Roosevelt Park and the square, the plan is to make it a space where people gather, too.
“We want to soften the area,” Roddy said. “We don't want it to be all pavers … When it's all hard surfaces, it just feels hard, and it can get hot and that sort of thing. And we don't want it to be totally about moving through the area.”
He said there will be some areas to rest, and there will be some nature brought back into it, whether it’s areas with grass or a few trees for shade.
Rich Atkinson, director of planning and community development with Flowery Branch, said the city’s Dean Jones Family Park has done well and been a space community members enjoy as they walk near downtown.
“It is not necessarily a destination spot, but rather a nice place for pedestrians and local folks to stop and enjoy a nice landscaped and lit area,” Atkinson said in an email. “It's a nice spot for folks to stop and relax and helps make a small spot a useful public space.”
As the Gainesville Renaissance project moves along — it’s planned to break ground in the spring — Roddy hopes the community will see the benefit of the park in the same way.
“We want to do this in a way that everybody gets excited,” Roddy said.