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Editorial: Changes in downtown Gainesville show possibilities of big-picture thinking
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Land continues to be prepared Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, in downtown Gainesville for construction of a new parking deck. - photo by Scott Rogers

Most of us have had an opportunity to enjoy the digital wizardry known as “time-lapse photography,” where images collected over an extended period of time are edited and superimposed upon one another to allow you to see in just a matter of seconds events that actually happened over days, weeks or months.

Done well, the end result can be an amazing bit of photographic magic.

Watching the metamorphosis in downtown Gainesville these days is much like that, except that the changes are happening in real time and not as a trick of cameras and editing. Generational changes are happening right before our eyes, not spread out over years and decades as you might expect for a growing city nucleus evolving into something totally different that what it has been before.

Those involved in re-imagining Gainesville and changing the downtown area forever made a presentation to directors of the local Chamber of Commerce on Thursday. Taken individually, any one of the ongoing projects would be significant to the future of the town; collectively, they represent an opportunity for a unique transformation the likes of which most of us have never seen.

That they are all happening at once, and are likely to be done within just a few years, is indicative of transitional planning, cooperation between the private and public sector, and “big picture” thinking that would be the envy of many communities in Georgia.

Not only is the city on the verge of remaking its skyline and downtown business district but also changing the demographics of the heart of Gainesville.

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Solis Gainesville, the combination of apartments, restaurants and retail areas at the end of the much maligned “bridge to nowhere,” is expected to start pre-leasing space by October for apartments expected to be ready for occupancy early next year. City manager Bryan Lackey told the chamber members there is already interest in the retail/restaurant space portion of the project.

The Gainesville Renaissance project, which will combine retail shops, living quarters and educational space on one side of the historic square, could be finished in just a matter of months. Not only will it bring a fresh new look to downtown area, but like Solis it also will incorporate luxury residential living.

Lackey pointed out the upper-end residential units being planned for the downtown area are not going to be typical of other apartment complexes in the county and are likely to be marketed primarily toward “empty nesters” and young professionals, resulting in little impact on the city’s schools.

The National, another of the projects emerging from the ground in downtown, is also going to have a high-end residential component with an apartment tower planned to house 144 units adjacent to a seven-story Courtyard by Marriott hotel. Completion of that entire project is expected in less than two years.

Adding to the potential amenities for future residents and visitors is the planned Bourbon Brothers restaurant and concert venue off Jesse Jewel Parkway at West Academy Street. The concert/special events venue, outdoor patio and bar, and restaurant are expected to be open next year.

On the other side of downtown, a new parking deck with room for more than 400 cars is under construction to help handle the vehicles expected to be drawn to the area. That project, too, should be completed next year, and will include closing of a side street to create a pedestrian friendly green zone.

The changes in Gainesville are not limited to the area around the square. The midtown area also is seeing changes, with a new park being developed around the relocated engine 209, and more new apartment living options.

When you consider that throughout the state small towns are dealing with the realities of shuttered businesses, dying downtown areas and local residents moving to new areas, the changing dynamic for Gainesville is both encouraging and remarkable.

It is no mistake that so much is happening around town at the same time, but rather an indication of the potential seen in the area for long-term growth and investment.

Still, it is amazing to think all of these projects could be completed within just a couple of years and a totally new city core realized in such a relatively short period of time. It truly is like watching time-lapse photography, but without the time lapse.

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