When Kathy Wedegis wanted to open a bakery in Gainesville in 2010, she and her then-partner found an old warehouse office on Grove Street in midtown.
Painted brick, cubical and rustic, the retired industrial space had all the charm a small-business woman looking to run a low-key, out-of-the-way shop could want.
“I have no desire to move to the square,” Wedegis said. “I don’t want to be any bigger, but I love this building — I love this area.”
There was just one problem: The place was a wreck.
Mold and decay had wrapped around the bones of 610 Grove St., which sat vacant for years as the warehouse operations of Sears and other businesses faded and midtown’s industrial heart drifted farther away from downtown Gainesville.
The near-term focus on midtown is concentrated in the area of town ringed by Jesse Jewell Parkway, E.E. Butler Parkway, Queen City Parkway and Ridge Road.
Wedegis said she had to sink a pretty penny into getting her bakery off of the ground.
“I should have bought it because we put so much money into it,” she said. “It was a mess. We had to wear full-body hazmat suits for three months. Nothing had been in here for 14 years.”
But she got it done, and The Colored Egg is still down in midtown churning out quiches and cookies and others of life’s good things. Wedegis came to Gainesville from New York about 20 years ago, fell in love with the town and has watched the square come back to life from its tired days in the 1990s.
“When we first moved here, the only thing that was really active was Saul’s,” she said.
In 2018 and beyond, others will be following Wedegis’ lead in Gainesville’s old midtown — working the dust and age off of the area’s bones and discovering that they are strong.
With downtown flowering just a short walk away from midtown — the area is about to kick off a $52 million torrent of commercial and residential construction on the square and nearby — it raises the question of what’s next for the sleepy, former industrial hub of Gainesville.
Eyes will at first fall on the gaping hole across Grove Street from Wedegis’ bakery left by the demolition of the former Hall County jail.
“The jail is gone — I think that’s the big, ‘woohoo,’” said Gainesville City Manager Bryan Lackey.
The $377,000 demolition headache for the city is now a multimillion-dollar opportunity. The site has been appraised at $1.3 million, and the city has already received pitches from four developers on its future.
“Mixed-use, definitely — not on the scale that you’re seeing with the Parkside on the Square building,” Lackey said as he described the proposals. “I think you’re looking at something that’s going to be a three- to four-story building there, and it’ll have a large (rental) residential component to it.”
Developers have proposed concepts of 50 to 100 units on the upper floors and restaurants on the ground floor, including one idea new to Gainesville that came up repeatedly.
“Everyone is talking about the whole brewpub-type concept — probably all of them have had some kind of desire for that to be there,” Lackey said.
An asking price for the property has not been set by the Gainesville City Council. Lackey said the city will come up with its asking price and “see if they get sticker shock.”
Existing businesses in midtown are eager for a project to breathe life back in the area.
“We need more activity here in this area,” Maria Enriquez, owner of Maria’s Income Tax, told The Times in 2017 just after the jail was demolished. “That site is large enough for someone to develop a project that combines apartments with retail and a restaurant. We need more life here outside of the downtown area.”
Tony Paramore, co-owner of Gainesville Paint, has also said he hopes new projects will draw more people to the industrial area that for now is dominated by the mural on the side of his business.
A mixed-use project is still some time away in the area, but in the meantime other business owners growing or moving into midtown are embracing its industrial feel, from The Colored Egg to Gainesville Paint and its DREAM BIG mural to The Chair Factory.
“People come and have their picture taken in front of the mural,” Paramore said in 2017. “We want midtown to be a beautiful place that draws people to the area.”
If you’re wondering about that last one, the shuttered Georgia Chair factory has been resurrected as a wedding and event venue. Georgia Chair was closed fewer than two years before new owners found a use for its care-worn finishes, wooden floors and exposed brick walls.
Midtown has another resource going for it that the city plans to capitalize on in the coming years: The Midtown Greenway.
The network of paths near downtown Gainesville and stretching into midtown will help move foot traffic between the downtown square when the residential construction finishes in 2019 and midtown.
The path is also likely to become the next home for a midtown skatepark on a lot at the corner of Pine and High streets.
“We think it’s a good location — it’s just right off the greenway. So whoever wants to skate can be on the greenway coming down to it and go right to it,” Lackey said.
The city already owns the lot, and it would help give frustrated skateboarders tired of being shooed away from private and public property in downtown a place to call home.
“Most of them are just trying to have a good time,” Lackey said. “I don’t think they’re bad people or are trying to tear things up, they just do what they do as skaters.”
Gainesville Parks and Recreation Director Melvin Cooper plans to design the skatepark in fiscal year 2019, which begins in July. Several organizations have talked with the city about providing grants to help cover the costs of construction, including the Tony Hawk Foundation.