A park and community center planned in the area of the Harrison Square public housing complex and Morningside Heights neighborhood in Gainesville has been scrapped after costs for developing the property escalated beyond initial estimates.
Hall County officials said they are currently exploring another location nearby, but it faces its own set of obstacles to development.
Commissioner Jeff Stowe, who serves the district, said he remains committed to establishing a public park in the historic African-American neighborhood.
“It wasn’t just a campaign promise,” he said.
Angela Middleton, a community activist who opposed Stowe last November in his re-election bid, said residents are disappointed by the news because county officials had made it seem last fall that the park was a done deal.
“I think it’s a travesty to the community,” she added.
Middleton urged her neighbors and friends to stay the course and continue to work to make the park a reality.
“It would very easy for them to give up faith,” she said.
The project has been in the works for a dozen years, beginning in 2004 when plans were drawn to develop affordable housing on the site adjacent to Harrison Drive, Athens Street and Interstate 985.
South Hall, East Hall and North Hall each have community centers, but lower-income and middle-class residents in minority and immigrant neighborhoods in the Gainesville city limits have fewer options.
Stowe said the county had already agreed with the property owner on the purchase price of the 21 acres behind Harrison Square. But an environmental assessment revealed potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in added costs just to get the property ready for construction.
For example, a lake would need to be drained and the creek bed restored, while “quite a bit of debris” would have to be cleared.
“They got some cold feet,” he added about how rising costs swayed support from fellow commissioners.
The park alone would cost in the neighborhood of $1 million or more with walking trails, outdoor basketball courts, playground equipment and a community center similar to one next to Fair Street School.
The county has earmarked about $500,000 in special purpose local option sales tax revenue to purchase land and begin developing the park. Additional funds will need to come from grants or impact fees, Stowe said.
The park is viewed as a catalyst for broader redevelopment in the area, and Stowe said the county is reviewing a nearby property it already owns.
But additional acreage, which is privately held, is necessary to build out a park to community standards, he added.
“What we own is not enough by itself,” Stowe said. “We’ll know very quickly whether this will work or not.”