Gainesville City Council candidates for the Nov. 5 election are reflecting on progress and looking ahead at growth — a challenge they all anticipate.
Incumbents Zack Thompson and Barbara Brooks were the only ones to qualify for their wards, while two candidates will be on the ballot to represent Ward 5. Incumbent Ruth Bruner had previously announced she would not seek re-election. The election is nonpartisan and council members are elected at large, meaning any voter in the city can cast a ballot.
A map of Gainesville’s wards is available on the city website.
Bill Bush, Ward 5
Bill Bush, who is running to represent Ward 5 near downtown, said he sees the uniqueness of downtown and the potential of midtown, and he wants to be a part of it.
The square, he said, has preserved its charm while becoming a destination.
“It’s a tricky thing, because so many communities are wanting to over-develop their squares and have it be just very new and updated. Or they end up putting all their city offices and their tax division and everything on the square, so the only time you actually go to the city square is to pay bills or visit somebody in an office,” Bush said. “What I love about ours is that it has the restaurants and the shopping and things like that.”
Bush has lived in Gainesville about nine years and became involved with the community after participating in Gainesville’s Citizens Government Academy. He served on the city’s Historic Preservation Commission for three years and recently stepped down from that position to run for Council.
“I love Gainesville as a community — the people, the place. Once I heard that Ruth (Bruner) was not going to be running, I began finding ways to get more involved and seeing if it was the right thing for me, so working through it and talking with my wife,” Bush said. “It was a decision that we made that we think it is a good way for me to give back.”
He has also been involved with Main Street Gainesville, the city’s downtown development program, and opened The Gainesville Collective, a since-closed business in Main Street Market on the square.
Bush said he also sees the untapped potential of midtown and believes the Council should prioritize “being strong in that, in recruiting businesses, trying to find specific businesses to fill that and not just letting businesses find us.”
“I really hope that the Council can be actively involved in that development of midtown as a space,” Bush said. “I feel like it will definitely define Gainesville heavily, like we have with downtown and the lake.”
He is also keeping his eye on growth in Gainesville and its effects on the school system and traffic.
“I believe that one of the biggest things is definitely going to be growth, population and business,” he said.
Bush, who is originally from Valdosta, works as a producer at Allstate.
Juli Clay, Ward 5
Juli Clay, who is running for Ward 5, said the area’s strong economy puts Gainesville at “an interesting pivot point.”
“There’s an opportunity to be a part of that vision and a part of that growth, to make sure that it’s smart growth and that it is growth that continues to preserve the legacy of Gainesville and preserve why everyone loves to call Gainesville home,” Clay said, “but also to help it grow and accommodate this influx of population and industry and everything into our community.”
Clay said Gainesville’s generosity and diversity make it unique.
“That’s one of the reasons we chose to put our children in school in Gainesville, because we have such a diverse population and from that comes such a rich heritage and rich culture that we all get to benefit from,” she said.
Clay is Brenau University’s assistant vice president for executive programs and department chair of communication. She has been at Brenau since 2006, and her children have been attending Gainesville schools for about a decade. Her family moved to Gainesville about five years ago.
She anticipates the growth in Gainesville, and she said officials need to be prepared to handle it.
“It’s wonderful to bring more industry and more population to Gainesville, but with that comes the need to have a really strong plan for how we accommodate that influx of people, with schools, roads and affordable housing,” she said. “We continue to add high-end condos and things like that, but we’re bringing in workforce oftentimes that can’t afford that.”
Clay said that the Council should build on progress made in the past while looking forward.
“It’s a really proud and rich legacy that we have, and we’re at a very exciting time,” Clay said. “A lot of towns in Georgia are not experiencing this prosperous time, so I think we have a real opportunity to take that and nurture it and make sure we have a sustained and practical plan in place to handle that expansion.”
Barbara Brooks, Ward 3
Barbara Brooks, whose ward covers southern Gainesville, wants to keep her seat on City Council for a second term.
“My work is not done yet, and I love the people enough to give it another shot,” Brooks said.
She said her ward is diverse, and she has enjoyed getting to know her community and hearing about what they would like to see.
“It takes work. It takes identifying with people. It takes meeting with people,” Brooks said. “We just can’t sit on the bench and make decisions without making conversation with the people who are impacted by it.”
Brooks said residents feel especially impacted by annexations and rezonings, like the Aug. 6 approval of a 375-home subdivision off of Gaines Mill Road. Listening to people’s concerns about these issues is important, she said, and she also tries to communicate that residential development can bring commercial development that people may be wanting.
“We need storefronts. We need grocery stores. We need drugstores. We need everything on the south of Jesse Jewell (Parkway) that there is on the north side of Jesse Jewell. … so that those folks don’t have to drive seven miles into Gainesville to get to a pharmacy,” Brooks said. “… The businesses can’t survive without a population. The more rooftops we get, the more our community builds that south of Gainesville, the more opportunities we have to get some of the shopping that people enjoy.”
Brooks has lived in the city of Gainesville for about 20 years and Hall County for about 50 years.
Zack Thompson, Ward 2
Zack Thompson, whose ward encompasses northeast Gainesville, said he is seeking a second term on City Council to follow through on development in midtown Gainesville and take on the challenge of incoming growth.
“We have a lot going on in the city, especially in the midtown area, that I would like to see to fruition over the next few years. I feel like I’ve worked hard with our Council and staff over the past four years to move that area in a positive direction,” Thompson said. “I think we’re getting there now. We have a little more to go, but we have some pieces of property there that have a lot of potential.”
The city owns two properties that officials have identified as key to midtown development — the 6.8-acre site on the southern end of the pedestrian bridge over Jesse Jewell Parkway and the 4-acre former Hall County Jail property at the intersection of Main and Parker streets. Officials plan to announce developers for those properties in September.
Thompson has spent the majority of his life in Gainesville, with the exception of four years at the University of Georgia and two years in Roswell. He has now been back in Gainesville for more than 20 years and said the community is tight-knit.
“We are respectful of each other and of our businesses, and I think everyone really wants to see our community advance and do well,” Thompson said.
Thompson said that while growth is expected to be a challenge, development in the business community will be much needed in coming years.
“We have a lot of opportunity coming with our newly proposed industrial park, so we’re going to have some new industry within Gainesville,” he said. “We are currently out of industrial space. That will be a really good opportunity for our city to bring in some jobs and some big industry on some large tracts of land.”
The city owns 1,300 acres in the area of Allen Creek Road and U.S. 129 that it plans to develop into a 20-lot business park for companies new to the area or local ones looking to expand.