The anticipated Parkside on the Square development has been called off, but Gainesville city officials are holding out hope that downtown living can still be a possibility.
The multi-use development on Spring Street on the downtown square, currently home to a parking lot, was going to have 32 high-end condominiums and commercial space on the first floor. It would have brought a residential option right on the square, something councilmembers said they would have liked to have seen.
“For so long, that side of the square has been nothing but a parking lot. We use it for events, but there was always the potential that it could be something really good,” Councilwoman Ruth Bruner said. “… We’ve tried to get housing downtown for years and years, and this was going to be a chance for that.”
But after two years of preparation, in late May it became clear to developers that the project was not going to work. Costs increased from $17 million to $22 million.
“To say we’re disappointed is an understatement,” Tim Knight, who with two partners was developing Parkside, told The Times on Thursday, June 6. “We wanted to build a really nice project for Gainesville.”
Officials echoed that disappointment in interviews with The Times on Friday, June 7.
“Everybody was so excited about the project that was coming. Then, at the last minute, the plug was pulled on it, and now people are disappointed,” Councilman Zack Thompson said. “It seemed like it was going to be a quality project. It just didn’t make it to the finish line. We’re getting a lot of questions of what’s going to come there, and we really don’t know.”
The property is currently owned by Carter Family Properties. Doug Carter said Thursday that the half-acre lot on the “fourth side of the square” is under contract with Doug Ivester, a Gainesville native and former chairman of Coca-Cola.
Fred Roddy, a spokesman for Ivester, said Thursday that a specific plan for the site was not finalized yet, but Ivester would work with advisers to find an idea that would be a good fit.
Councilman Sam Couvillon said hearing that another buyer was lined up gave him hope for the future of the property.
“This moment a couple days ago when I learned the project was not going to go through, it was disappointing,” Couvillon said. “… Now fast forward two days, knowing that he has a buyer and can close within 30 days, it’s back to being exciting and wanting to know what the future holds for that spot.”
Councilman George Wangemann also said that while he was disappointed to hear Parkside would not be built, he would like to see the empty lot live up to its potential.
“The prospect of greater economic development stemming from the square in Gainesville, that’s always a good thing,” Wangemann said. “We’re looking for ways of getting more people downtown, spending money there and also congregating so that the community becomes much more cohesive.”
Carter’s firm purchased the property from the city for $400,000 in 2001. There were plans to build a two-story, 40,000-square-foot mixed-use development on the space. But the economic recession made that idea more difficult at the time, and in 2014, Carter listed the property. It’s been used as a public parking lot with Carter’s permission.
But now, with the Main Street parking deck recently expanded, the extra parking lot could be used for another development. The city had agreed to set aside 64 spots in the deck for Parkside residents, and City Manager Bryan Lackey said a similar offer for parking would be made if the next development has a residential component.
Parkside also would have had a pocket park that would have connected to the Highlands to Islands Trail, a planned trail system connecting Gainesville and South Hall with some parts, including the Midtown Greenway, already open. The pocket park would have been between the downtown square and Roosevelt Square.
Officials said they had liked the idea.
“With the Highlands to Islands Trail coming right through there, that area we’ve really left alone the last two years without doing a lot of maintenance to it,” Lackey said. “… We certainly want to see something new and fresh right there for the connection between the downtown square and the Roosevelt Square.”
Councilwoman Barbara Brooks said the pocket park had been one of her favorite features in the Parkside plans.
“I had really been attracted to the outside seating that the public could enjoy, even if they weren’t residents of the complex,” she said. “ … A place downstairs on the first floor so that people passing (could stop), tables where you could sit there if you wanted to get something to eat.”
Councilmembers said that while they had been anticipating having people take up residence on the square, they would welcome any project that would boost downtown.
“Downtown has gotten very vital, and it’s always nice to have more things to do and more places to eat,” Bruner said. “We already have a good many, but there’s always been room for more because they all seem to be doing well.”
Wangemann said he would like to see some housing on the square.
“I would like to see something similar (to Parkside). It’s not a huge lot, but it’s adequate for what (Knight) was planning for,” Wangemann said.
But more retail options for the community would be a positive addition, and restaurants on the square tend to also do well, he said.
“The businesses that I’ve seen that have survived in the downtown area have been primarily restaurants,” Wangemann said. “Restaurants tend to bring a lot of people downtown.”
Brooks said she’d like to see retail on the first floor of the new development.
“I would like to see retail to draw people into the downtown area,” she said. “And I would like to see some sort of seating area on the first floor for the public. … Something that is going to keep people coming back.”
Parkside received approval for tax allocation district funding, a city government program that allows developers to reinvest increases in property taxes in construction of a development. When a property is developed, its taxes can be expected to increase, but the TAD allows the money from those increases to be used as reimbursement for the development itself.
Lackey said the city’s only financial investment in Parkside was city attorney fees for Abbott Hayes to review agreements, although he did not have a dollar amount for those fees.
The “fourth side of the square” lot is one of many city officials hope can soon be developed. The city is seeking proposals for two city-owned properties and would like to see mixed-use developments go in.
Officials hope that the 6.8-acre property on the southern end of the Jesse Jewell Parkway pedestrian bridge and 4-acre former Hall County Jail site at Main and Parker Streets won’t stay empty for long.
Lackey said it was always the goal for these two properties to help kick off downtown and midtown development, and Parkside would have been part of that.
“We thought that Parkside was going to go first, and it was kind of a big hub for our downtown area and kind of radiate off from that,” Lackey said.
Councilmembers said they thought the three properties would be able to benefit from each other as development moves in.
“Somebody is going to have to get started on a piece of property so that we actually know what the development is, so that will give everybody else a catalyst to play off of,” Thompson said. “They might say, ‘OK, there’s high-end condos on one piece, maybe we don’t need high-end condos on another piece.’”
But they wanted to see a variety of ideas for the different spots.
“I don’t think all three properties can hold the same use,” Thompson said. “I think that they’re going to have to be a mix and match of uses between the three.”
“You wouldn’t want too much redundancy, where everything’s the same,” she said. “The market can only hold so many, say, apartments.”
Brooks said she is looking forward to seeing developers get to work.
“One of the biggest predictors of success is a developer who is getting in and getting the plan done and getting out ahead of the game,” she said. “... I would like to see diversity and not have everybody trying to do the same thing within a quarter mile.”
The city also owns the 1.7-acre property at Jesse Jewell and West Academy Street currently home to Engine 209. Knight had planned to build another mixed-use development there, but the Council voted in February to release Knight’s option to buy that property. At that time, Knight said he planned to focus on Parkside.
Bruner said Friday that she also sees potential at the Engine 209 site, as officials have said they hope to move the train to a park.
And while officials are hopeful that the former Parkside spot could be developed, the city will have much more of a hand in what happens with land it already owns, Lackey said.
“As far as the city goes, we need to focus on controlling what we can control,” he said.