Main Street Gainesville, the city’s downtown development program, will now serve a larger area including midtown after the Gainesville City Council approved the boundary changes Tuesday.
Councilwoman Barbara Brooks was absent Tuesday, and all other council members voted in favor.
Main Street Gainesville is a division of the Gainesville Convention and Visitors Bureau that promotes downtown businesses and organizes events, including Jingle Mingle and Mutts on Main. The program’s previous boundaries were mostly bordered by Academy Street, West Academy Street, Jesse Jewell Parkway and E.E. Butler Parkway. Only a small part of midtown was included.
Now, the program will be able to work with businesses and host events in the Brenau University and midtown areas.
Kyle Sanders, owner of Let There Be Rock Schools, a music school on Main Street, said he would like to see more events bring people to midtown. His business is already a Main Street member.
“I would love to see some events coming down toward this end with the development here and the transition from the older, kind of run-down buildings being taken over,” Sanders said. “It seems to be an upcoming, thriving part of the community. I’m all about spreading it down here and getting some more attention to midtown.”
City spokeswoman Nikki Perry said the boundary expansion will help bring events to midtown — the Midtown Greenway is an especially promising venue, she said. Main Street Gainesville can also now work to recruit businesses to fill empty spots in these areas, she said.
“Changing the view of downtown by hosting other events in other areas of downtown can be a starting point, but mainly it’s working to build up the business district in those areas and also promoting existing businesses,” she said.
The Highlands to Islands Trail, a proposed trail network that will run through both Gainesville and Hall County, will also bring people to areas of the city they may not have spent much time in before, she said.
“I think the Highlands to Islands Trail is going to be a wonderful catalyst for commercial and residential development,” Perry said. “We’ve seen that in other areas. Greenville’s Swamp Rabbit Trail is a fantastic example of how a greenway can transform an area, and I think this is an exciting new opportunity for downtown.”
Perry said Main Street advisory board members approved of the boundary change.
Deb Harkrider spoke against the Main Street boundary expansion at Tuesday’s meeting. She is the former owner of Main Street Market and was previously on Main Street’s advisory board.
Harkrider said the Main Street program should focus on helping downtown businesses recover from the loss of events on the square and the hassle of downtown construction before expanding its reach.
“We need to continue to concentrate on the area that’s going to be impacted right now, then maybe look at this a little further down the road,” Harkrider said. “… We need to make sure that we don’t allow the downtown to become blighted again, as we’ve all seen in years past.”
The Spring Chicken Festival will be held at Longwood Park on April 27, rather than its traditional spot on the downtown square. The Beach Bash, also usually downtown, will be at Lake Lanier Olympic Park this summer. The events were moved due to impending construction on Parkside on the Square, an upcoming multi-use development with retail, restaurants and condominiums that will be on the square.
To compensate for moving those two events, the city will be sponsoring two additional First Friday events this year that will be held downtown.
City Manager Bryan Lackey said Tuesday that the city wants to support the coalition in its efforts to bring people downtown and wants any downtown event to be successful.
Lackey also said that expanding Main Street’s boundaries would enable more businesses to join in downtown revitalization efforts.
“We need our downtown to be strong and vibrant. … This change of the boundaries just increases that strength and increases the amount of people who want to be part of the great things going on downtown,” Lackey said.
Joseph Summer manages Grove Street Station, a midtown event venue on Grove Street owned by his mother Chandelle. He said the downtown he sees now is an improvement on the one from his childhood.
New people, and their businesses, are bringing fresh ideas, and he hopes to see that trend continue, he said.
“I’m really pleased with the influx of new people. … I think that that is necessary for a vibrant city, and I think that Gainesville has become a vibrant city and can become even more vibrant,” Summer said. “It could really be a metropolis of North Georgia. Hopefully, midtown is an extension of that.”
And Kelly Leo, owner of Full Throttle Fitness on Main Street in midtown, said he is also looking forward to seeing new businesses move in.
“I’m just looking forward to seeing the growth come that way and new developments and activity,” Leo said. “I think it will be good for Gainesville overall.”
Since relocating Full Throttle from Oakwood, he said he has seen more walk-in traffic and has been able to grow the business. He said more events in midtown could help the businesses there get exposure.
“It will get more people out in that area, and they’ll be able to see more businesses outside of the normal areas,” Leo said.
Summer said midtown is separated from the downtown square area by Jesse Jewell Parkway, a boundary that can be crossed using the downtown pedestrian bridge. But the land on the midtown side of that bridge is still empty, something he’d like to see changed.
“I think there needs to be something on the other side of the bridge before it’s really considered downtown,” Summer said.
The city purchased that land in November and hopes to recruit a developer to build there.
When Gainesville created its downtown strategic plan in 2015, residents said they considered downtown to be the area going from the Gainesville Civic Center in the north, Brenau University in the east, the midtown railroad in the south, and Lake Lanier in the west. The new Main Street boundaries reflect this definition.
Summer said he would like to see the empty land in the midtown area put to use. While industry keeps the area busy during the day, he would like to see more places for people to go after the end of the business day.
“Hopefully, that will create more of a buzz over there, but I think the problem in midtown is it has some life, but not enough life like downtown,” he said.
Summer said he is “cautiously optimistic” about midtown development but thinks projects like the Highlands to Islands Trail could get things moving. But in the end, people will have to bet on midtown to make it successful, he said.
“It takes people putting shovels in the ground and taking action, people taking risks,” Summer said.