Midtown Gainesville is going through some changes.
On Oct. 16, the Gainesville City Council voted to buy the land on the southern end of the pedestrian bridge over Jesse Jewell Parkway for $10 million, with the hopes of reselling it to a developer so the so-called “bridge to nowhere” will have a purpose. The city is also working on recruiting a developer to bring life to the old Hall County Jail site on Main Street.
Proposed trails would wind through midtown to make the area more pedestrian-friendly. Plans for a skate park at the intersection of Pine and High Streets would also provide recreation opportunities.
And on Tuesday, the City Council approved an ordinance banning 31 uses in the city’s Midtown Overlay Zone, including homeless shelters, crisis centers, coin laundry facilities and pawn shops. Existing businesses or nonprofits that would be banned under the new rules are being grandfathered in and can stay.
- Automated or non-automated car washes
- Coin-laundry facilities
- Dollar-type stores or thrift stores
- Community donation boxes
- Gas stations
- Group homes, homeless shelters, rooming house or crisis centers
- Industrial uses causing the emission of noise, vibration, smoke, dust, gas, fumes and odors
- Industrial uses with outdoor storage
- Jail/correctional facility
- Liquor stores
- Marine sales or repair stores
- Massage parlors
- Mini-warehouses including climate controlled self-service storage facilities
- Motels or extended stay lodging
- Motor vehicle sales or service
- Pawn shops
- Psychics, fortune tellers, clairvoyants and the like
- Salvage yard
- Sanitation uses including the storage of trash cans, dumpsters and porta potties
- Sexually-oriented adult uses
- Tattoo parlors
- Taxi-cab or limousine services
- Tobacco or vaping stores
- Truck stops
- Vehicle emission testing facility
- Veterinarian or animal hospitals with outdoor kennels
- Wireless telecommunication facility or cell towers excluding co-location
- Wrecked motor vehicle compound
These efforts are all part of Gainesville’s vision for midtown as a place of rebirth and a new business center for the city.
“We’re looking for some more housing, we’d like to see more retail there, even perhaps some more office space, perhaps a hotel,” City Manager Bryan Lackey said.
The city’s approximately 350-acre Midtown Overlay Zone is bordered by E.E. Butler Parkway, Jesse Jewell Parkway, Queen City Parkway and the railroad.
Some midtown business owners are looking forward to the redevelopment.
“I think it’s changing to go a little more retail-oriented, which is good for people coming over from downtown as the square gets a little more crowded,” Jason Everett, owner of the Gainesville Design Center, said.
Everett said he hopes that the buildings in midtown that are sitting vacant or falling into disrepair can get a second chance as new businesses.
“I’m hoping what will happen is the area will change a little bit and they’ll fix places up a little bit more,” he said.
Bob Tyner owns Townview Coin Laundry on Main Street. His laundromat will not be shut down because it was there before the rule was passed — it has been in its current spot since 1988 and was across the street before that since 1968.
“It’s something that’s got to be done, sooner or later, for the city to grow,” Tyner said. “It seems that they’re wanting to make everything upscale.”
Tyner said “it’s just progress.”
“It’s just like out on Thompson Bridge Road,” he said. “Where Walmart is now, I used to have a laundry in there. The shopping center was sold to Walmart, so that put me out of business there.”
Lifelong Gainesville resident Belinda Rucker, folding her laundry at Townview Friday morning, said she is looking forward to seeing empty buildings developed.
“I think it’s a well-needed project. … We need to do something with the loose land,” she said.
J.R. Johnson, president of JOMCO Construction, said his company has taken part in the city’s redevelopment by remodeling the inside and outside of their building since opening in midtown about two years ago.
Johnson said he wants to see quality affordable housing move in to midtown and businesses open up in buildings that are dilapidated now.
“I think it is ever slowly changing. The vision that the leaders in the city have is starting to play out a little bit,” Johnson said. “I know for (co-founder Wesley Owenby) and I we felt good about our business being downtown.”
The regulations passed Tuesday allow for single-family homes and condominiums in midtown. But the rules ban several other uses city officials say don’t match up with revitalization plans for the area, including homeless shelters, pawn shops, gas stations on lots smaller than 2 acres, and industrial uses that emit pollution or noise.
“Looking at the character of the area, the renovations, the redevelopment that goes into that. … There’s already several of those businesses that exist, and we think there’s enough of those existing there now,” Lackey said.
The rule change comes about a month after the City Council unanimously passed bans on “urban camping,” or living or sleeping in public spaces, and “aggressive solicitation.”
City officials said the ordinances provide law enforcement with the tools they need to address complaints, and the focus would be on helping connect the homeless with resources, rather than issuing citations. Opponents at an Oct. 2 public hearing said the ordinances criminalize homelessness and leave the homeless with nowhere to go.
Arturo Adame was one of the people who spoke out against the urban camping and solicitation ordinances on Oct. 2. The new rules passed Tuesday “put the final nail in the coffin,” he said.
“It’s not a problem that should be swept under the rug and pushed to the side. … This is just going to cause more problems and more heartache for the people who have the least among us,” Adame said.
Banning new homeless shelters and crisis centers in midtown, where these services are concentrated in Gainesville, shortly after passing other ordinances affecting the homeless puts the homeless community in an even more difficult position, Adame said.
“It really just boils down to the optics and the business and the attraction of people and the attraction of money,” he said.
Adame said he understands that officials want midtown to be a “gathering spot” where people can mingle and where local businesses can thrive. He is not opposed to that idea, but he worries that people in poverty will get pushed out of the area, he said.
“That would be fine, and I wouldn’t have a problem with that, but who are you stepping on in order to make those plans?” he said.
New shelters, which the ordinance bans in the midtown overlay zone, are needed to meet the needs of the homeless population, Adame said.
Adame said the timing of the vote — the Council approved the ordinance on Election Day about an hour before polls closed — prevented some from speaking out against the rule change. Adame is the president of the Young Democrats of Hall County.
Lackey said the city will continue to work with nonprofits that serve the homeless, and new organizations can still be located outside of the midtown area.
“Gainesville is a big area. … There’s already several nonprofits in the area that help the homeless, and they will remain there,” Lackey said. “We’re not shutting them out. We’re glad that they’re there to help and partner with them.”