Like kindergarten kids demolishing Lincoln Log villages to pack up the pieces when class is over, there’s a lot of destruction happening in downtown Gainesville these days.
Wrecking crews recently took down the former Turner, Wood and Smith building on Bradford Street, and this past week the parking deck adjacent to the old Regions Bank building was turned into a pile of concrete rubble, eventually to be followed by the building itself.
Add a variety of street projects that require heavy equipment in renovation mode and the dust of destruction is obvious all around the square.
And that’s a good thing.
Downtown Gainesville is undergoing a transformation, as major residential and commercial developments long anticipated and much discussed are becoming more than blueprints on a draftsman’s board. There is the potential for something spectacular to happen there in the not-to-distant future.
The construction of the Carroll Daniel Construction building was the first of the major development dominoes to fall in place, but now others are well on their way. Among them:
- Solis Gainesville, where framing work is under way giving shape and design to a long anticipated residential/commercial center on the other side of the “bridge to nowhere.” In another year, people are likely to be living there.
- Gainesville Renaissance, the new project on the “fourth side of the square” is also well underway and should be completed in less than a year.
- The National, hotel and residential space planned to replace the old bank building and the parking deck that was torn down this past week.
- Renovation of the Gainesville branch of the Hall County Library, completed and now open with a sleek modern look.
- The new parking deck that eventually will replace the former Turner, Wood and Smith building, which has been demolished.
- Street work, including moving of utilities and rebuilding of sidewalks.
The relocation of Engine 209 from its current location on Jesse Jewell Parkway is another piece of the downtown puzzle that is likely to fall into place soon, as the city works toward moving the historic engine to a midtown park area where it will be much more accessible to the public than the current heavily trafficked site.
While some have protested the plan to move the old steam engine, we think it’s a good one that will put the historic train display in a more appropriate and convenient location away from the bustling downtown.
There is no doubt that the core of the city is undergoing a metamorphosis that will bring change to the area around the square, with a focus on bringing young, professional adults into residential units within walking distance of retail and commercial establishments.
The mix of residential and business offerings in pedestrian-friendly downtown areas complete with parks and greenspace has proven popular over the past couple of decades, with nearby towns such as Suwanee seeing great success with similar efforts.
As exciting as all the “new” is, we can’t help but be a little concerned about losing some of the “old.” The downtown square in Gainesville has been the heart of the city for many decades, and we hope that all the changes don’t erase the eclectic mix of business ventures and the relaxed and friendly vibe of the area that has long been a destination point for residents of all of Hall County.
When all is done, we hope the flashy new growth adds to allure of the town’s history, rather than turning it into a homogenized version of other small cities scattered around metro Atlanta, where they may not have traditions such as the lighting of a giant chicken at Christmas, Mule Camp Market or local farmers coming to town to sell their goods.
Times editorial board
Norman Baggs, general manager
Shannon Casas, editor in chief
We also hope all changes taking place around the square and in the midtown area are just a beginning and not an endpoint. Within blocks of all those new developments there are parts of Gainesville that desperately need new infusions of investment money, demolition of eyesores and an elevation of the standards of living for residents there.
Housing more affordable than that being built in close proximity to the square is desperately needed and hopefully will be the focus of attention on the next round of development likely to take place adjacent to that now under way.
The ultimate goal should be for the economic gains that come from a thriving downtown area to then spread out to improve other parts of town, especially to the east and south of the square.
We fully expect those lasting improvements to be made over time, with the area around the square becoming a successful residential and economic center from which positive change can radiate and spread through the county seat.
For now, we’re content to watch the destruction taking place, with the expectation that a truly transformative decade is well under way in the heart of Gainesville.