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Editorial: Parkside news the latest in the Gainesville growth drama
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Developer Tim Knight has canceled plans for Parkside on the Square, a multi-use project in downtown Gainesville that would have filled the vacant “fourth side of the square.” People who already bought condos are receiving refunds with interest, Knight said. - photo by Austin Steele

The announcement earlier this month that the much anticipated mixed-use Parkside development will not be happening after all adds yet another act to the seemingly never-ending script of the reality show drama, “How Will Gainesville Grow?”

When developers first announced plans to build high-end luxury condos on what has affectionately become known by the catchy marketing moniker, “fourth side of the square,” a lot of us not in the developing business were left thinking, “Really?”

Turns out maybe Gainesville isn’t quite ready to make that leap into Buckhead residential pricing after all, but credit is due to Knight Commercial Real Estate for giving the project a try, opening the eyes of a lot of people to dramatic new ideas of what might be possible for the area around the square, and generating a buzz of excitement about what might have been.

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

We can only wait and see what is next on the drawing board for the vacant lot in the heart of downtown.

But the big reveal for the former Parkside site’s future is only one of the ongoing story lines in the city development melodrama. Also on tap for your viewing pleasure in the very near future is the attempt, once again, to determine the fate of the vacant lot at the end of the much criticized pedestrian “bridge to nowhere.”

That property, you’ll remember, was once touted as the possible site of a hotel and convention center, thus sparking interest in the pedestrian bridge that was to link it with downtown. Alas, the bridge is there, but the link is lacking, and development plans that fueled a lot of excited discussion languished for years and went nowhere, with the city ultimately buying the land back for $10 million. By comparison, at least the Parkside project died a relatively quick death.

After a brief flirtation with the hospital system, which considered using the land but finally decided against doing so, the city is now seeking bids for proposals to buy and develop the bridge abutment site. City officials announced last month that proposals for the property will be received until July 15. Given that short window for submission, either they expect potential developers to come up with plans in a hurry, or they’ve already got an idea of interested parties and want to get on with things. Whichever is the case, you can bet the process will be closely scrutinized, given everything that has gone on before.

The “somewhere at the end of the bridge to nowhere” is not the only piece of city owned property officials hope to soon see as part of a purchase and development plan. The former county jail site at Main and Parker streets, which the city bought from the county for $7.2 million, is also the subject of bids sought by the July 15 deadline.

The jail property too has its share of dramatic, and expensive, real estate heritage. The city bought the jail in order to lease it to a private company, expecting lease payments to offset the cost of the land. But when the company pulled out, the city was left with the outstanding debt of some $6 million.

And just for fun throw into the mix the sliver of land on which the city now displays the historic Midland 209 locomotive. Much to the dismay of some residents opposed to relocating the engine, the city has already made clear it hopes to sell the land, though earlier efforts to entice the hospital system or the Parkside developer to purchase it did not pan out.

With the jail site, the bridge site, the engine site and the Parkside site all on the table for development, it’s not hard to imagine that an aerial view of downtown 10 years from now might well be dramatically different than what it is now.

But then we sort of had that same thought 10 years ago.

In the world of real estate development, it is not at all unusual for big plans to be announced and then fall by the wayside, as the realities of making them work as economically viable projects hit home. There’s nothing unusual or nefarious about such, and there are already indications a new buyer is interested in the Parkside location. Only time will tell what happens there, but we remain optimistic that the square’s fourth side will ultimately add to the ambiance and economic strength of the downtown area.

As for the city owned properties, we can only wait and see what happens next. Traditional private sector market forces that help to determine what will prove to be a viable approach to development don’t always apply in dealing with governments that have their own view about what should and should not be done to make an area better – which is very much the case with those responsible for governing Gainesville.

The city has its own ideas of what it wants, which may not necessarily dovetail with what the market will support. Whether a potential developer will bring to the table a plan that makes sense from a business standpoint while still satisfying the view of the future held by city officials is the high drama of the development script.

The city has the power to dictate and regulate, and has shown a willingness to do so. And while it has more than $17 million invested in the properties, there apparently is no urgency to recoup the investment.

Will the next act in the long-running development who-will-do-what drama leave the crowd cheering, or wondering what happened this time? Stay tuned to find out.

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