South Main Street will have more parking, better lighting and no utility poles within the next year.

The Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency began construction on South Main Street on Dec. 4 in the hopes of enhancing the area as a public space and promoting local businesses along the strip, said Andrew Meeker, project manager for the CRA. The $8.5 million project includes new crosswalks, 10 to 15 parking spots, 200 trees, a water bottle filling station, a bike repair stand and new lighting on South Main Street in order to draw people to the downtown area.

The improvements will stretch from Depot Avenue to South 16th Avenue and are expected to be complete in December 2018, Meeker said.

“Right now the street kind of functions as a place to go through,” he said. “What we’re working on is not only making it a place that you can go through but also an inviting place to go to.”

The speed limit will also be reduced to 30 miles per hour to make the road safer for cars and pedestrians, Meeker said. Currently, the street’s speed limit is 35 mph and 45 mph depending on the area.

Construction has already started on putting existing utility structures underground. The switch to underground utilities will not only protect the power lines during storms but also increase the development potential of the area in the future, Meeker said.

Alexis Ulseth, a UF biochemistry junior, doesn’t feel that an $8.5 million budget is necessary to upgrade South Main Street.

“I feel like that money could go toward something else,” the 21-year-old said.

She also fears that the construction may hurt business in the meantime.

“No one wants to go where there’s a lot of construction,” she said. “If it brings more people in the end, it’ll be worth it.”

The roadways and surrounding businesses will remain open throughout the construction process, but delays should be expected, Meeker said.

Some businesses, like Rockeys Dueling Piano Bar, located at 112 S. Main St., have already endured construction along Main Street.

Brad Heron, owner of Rockeys Dueling Piano Bar, said the stretch of Main Street in front of his business was closed for about a year after they opened in 2010. The construction didn’t quell his business, he said.

“Our guests had to make a haul to get here, and they still did,” he said.

Heron feels the project is a worthwhile investment for the city. He hopes the redevelopment will help the downtown area continue to flourish.

“I think it’s necessary for the continued growth and beautification of downtown Gainesville as a whole,” he said.

Contact Jessica Giles at jgiles@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter at @jessica_Giles_.

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