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Editorial: Midtown Gainesville proposal sounds promising, but transparency is a must
09132019 PLANS 2
An artist's portrayal shows retail and apartments planned for the 6.8-acre lot at the end of the pedestrian bridge over Jesse Jewell Parkway. Image courtesy Dynamik Design.

There are few things as impressive as an artist’s rendering of how a new project will look, and that’s certainly true with the image of development plans at the end of the “bridge to nowhere” shared by the city of Gainesville.

A mixed use of apartments, restaurants and retail space proposed for vacant land just off the courthouse square would definitely change the look of Gainesville by adding some modern suburban streetscape to its traditional downtown area.

It’s impossible not to look at the proposal from the Terwilliger Pappas development company and not be excited by thoughts of what could be and what may be.

But it’s also hard not to have a sense of déjà vu in doing so. It seems we’ve been down this road before.

The Times editorial board

Staff members

  • Norman Baggs, general manager
  • Shannon Casas, editor in chief

Community members

  • Cheryl Brown
  • David George
  • Mandy Harris
  • Brent Hoffman
  • J.C. Smith
  • Tom Vivelo

Remember when the city was all excited about a previous developer’s plans to build a hotel/conference center and office building on the space? Those plans were the impetus for the infamous pedestrian bridge that has for years spanned a busy street to connect the downtown square to an empty piece of land.

After years of plans and promises, that proposal finally fell through, and the city ended up buying back the land so that it could control how the property was used.

And then there was the proposal for upscale residential living on the “fourth side of the square,” a bold plan that was going to bring the amenities of suburban town life to vacant property in the middle of town. Except that plan fell through as well when there proved to be too little enthusiasm for expensive and refined condo living in downtown Gainesville. That property too has again changed hands, and we’re waiting to see what comes next for it.

If the Terwilliger Pappas proposal comes to fruition, it will not only redefine the look and feel of the city, but will go a long way toward deciding how the midtown area of Gainesville is developed in the future. The developer has proposed and completed upscale projects in other locations, apparently with great success, so we look forward to seeing what happens in Gainesville between the existing downtown and the industrial operations and railroad tracks that mark the edges of the midtown area.

In addition to the land at the end of the bridge, the developer also has plans for the vacant site that once housed the county jail, property also owned by the city, at least for now.

In all, the city has about $17 million invested in the two pieces of property, and we are all anxious to see what sort of return it expects to receive on its investment. We’ve never been great fans of the concept of government entities being speculators in the land development business, an arena in which they compete, most would say unfairly, with privately owned companies.

In that regard, the city has an obligation to be fully transparent with all the details of the Terwilliger proposal, and needs to do so as soon as possible.

Local taxpayers deserve to know complete details of the transaction, including the purchase price for the land, any special tax considerations or development concessions made by the city, what is expected of the developer in terms of contributing to traffic flow improvements for the area, and what the city has promised to do to bring the project to fruition.

City officials have said the purchase transaction is not yet complete, as it still requires city council approval. We would suggest members of the city council cannot have input from their constituents on the issue until details are made available publicly, and see no need to withhold details of the proposed transaction pending the city vote. Let the taxpayers know what the financial details are so the council can hear from those it represents.

Greg A. Power, vice president of the development company, said, “We’re excited to partner with the city, partner with stakeholders in the community.” Considering the taxpayers’ ownership of the properties involved, those stakeholders deserve to know all of the details of the transaction between the city and the development company as soon as possible.

We look forward to welcoming Terwilliger Pappas to Gainesville and hope the most recent plans for the properties in question will result in positive changes for the midtown area. When complete, those changes, coupled with the recently constructed Carroll Daniel building and future plans by investor Doug Ivester for the vacant lot on the square, will redefine the core of Gainesville.

Mayor Danny Dunagan succinctly captured the atmosphere of last week’s announcement by noting that Gainesville is “popping,” and it’s hard to argue with that assessment of things. We hope soon to see things “popping” out of the ground, and not just as part of an artist’s rendering of what could be.

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