When President Franklin D. Roosevelt arrived in Gainesville to deliver an impassioned speech about revitalizing the city following a deadly tornado in 1936, he could not have envisioned plans today to honor and build upon the legacy of a square bearing his name.
City officials are considering a nearly $1 million renovation to Roosevelt Square, which is tucked between City Hall, an administration building, the federal courthouse and the Brenau Downtown Center.
The square is largely hardscape, but design plans released Thursday call for an 80 foot by 125 foot green space, plus a feature mimicking water running over falls and across shoals, additional trees and vegetation, and better connectivity between the pedestrian bridge, the square and downtown Gainesville.
An adjacent hardscape area will be developed as a kind of festival niche with tiered seating and, potentially, canopies.
City officials hope the changes will draw community events to the square, as well as group activities like yoga, or concerts, fashion shows and student activities. History tours, and recreation and relaxation opportunities, are also imagined.
The renovations will also include additional accessibility for disabled people, a bio-retention area for drainage and other environmental conservation measures.
And that’s just the first phase.
Additional plans call for improving access to Roosevelt Square from the southeast, opposite downtown as an approach from Jesse Jewell Parkway.
The price tag for the first phase is estimated at $952,000 and includes construction costs, a 20 percent contingency and a 15 percent fee for design and permitting.
The second phase would cost $161,000, but this estimate does not include an additional proposal to renovate and expand the parking lot outside City Hall.
City Manager Kip Padgett said $600,000 is budgeted in the next fiscal year’s capital improvement program to pay for the first phase of renovations.
“What we got to do now since we have a ballpark (figure) ... is see where we might get some additional funding from,” Padgett said.
The remaining funding needed could come from “partners,” such as Brenau University and other users of the square, he added.
Construction would likely take four to six months once funding is available, officials said, and a proposed timeline calls for opening the renovated square to the public in the early summer of 2016.
That schedule would coincide with plans by local rotary clubs to install a tribute to public safety workers in the square, which is likely to be incorporated as an “island” within the proposed water feature. That tribute is set to be unveiled in May of next year.
“My appreciation goes out the rotary club(s)… because I think they have been the catalyst for this whole project,” said Councilman George Wangemann.
Officials said it’s important to capture and celebrate the history of square, where President Lyndon B. Johnson also reportedly once spoke, while reconfiguring it for modern aesthetics and practical needs.
“The historical significance of this space made us sort of look back before we went forward,” said Dale Jaeger, principal landscape architect and preservation planner with the Jaeger Company, a landscape architecture firm with offices in Gainesville and Athens that designed the new look. “You can’t create (history). It’s either there or it’s not. So when you have it, you should highlight it.”
In addition to a monument honoring Roosevelt, the square also includes a veterans memorial.
“It’s going to be a special place,” Mayor Danny Dunagan said about the future of the square. “We’re looking forward to it.”