Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan outlined the city’s response to growth and emphasized its strong economy in his annual State of the City address Tuesday.
He thanked the city’s employees, who he said have had to “do more with less,” as the population has grown about 20 percent since 2010 and departments find their budgets getting a little tighter.
But Dunagan also said the city has made investments where necessary, such as the $12.5 million new Riverside Water Quality Building, which allowed Gainesville Water Resources to treat almost 7 billion gallons of water for almost 50,000 customers in 2018.
The city also is using special purpose local option sales tax funds to pay for $25 million in projects for public safety, transportation and recreation. A new Fire Station No. 2 and youth sports complex are both in the design phase, Dunagan said. SPLOST is a countywide 1 percent sales tax that has been approved by voters for capital projects.
Officials want to promote a healthy downtown, he said, and efforts will also focus on midtown and connecting downtown Gainesville with surrounding areas.
“We want to continue the close-knit community feel of the square into the rest of downtown, which includes midtown, the Brenau district, Green Street and our historic neighborhoods,” Dunagan said.
He praised events like Christmas on Green Street for bringing the community together.
He said the city’s purchase of the land on the southern end of the Jesse Jewell Parkway pedestrian bridge gave the city control over the future of that important spot between downtown and midtown. The city also owns the former Hall County Jail site in midtown.
“We commit to you that we will hold out for the highest quality development on these properties,” Dunagan said.
The Highlands to Islands trail, a proposed countywide trail network, will eventually stretch from Longwood Park on Lake Lanier through the downtown square and Roosevelt Square, cross the pedestrian bridge to the Midtown Greenway, connect to Chicopee Woods and lead to the University of North Georgia. Dunagan said the city will soon put the next phase of this trail project out for bid.
He also said the city’s parks have stayed busy — last year, the parks department held 37 special events and accommodated for 60,000 fitness visits at Frances Meadows Aquatic Center, which turned 10 years old. Parks Director Melvin Cooper will be retiring in May after 47 years with the city.
Gainesville’s economy is doing well, Dunagan said, and that is expected to continue with companies like Fox moving in and the Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s new residency program. The city will have a hand in that economic growth, too, with 1,300 acres of city land planned for a new business park off of Allen Creek Road.
Dunagan said that while he is proud of the work that has been done, he also is anticipating seeing what will come next.
“We are off to another busy year and looking forward to see what 2019 brings,” he said.