Big changes to the downtown plaza will begin over Spring Break.
The Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency begins renovation for Bo Diddley Community Plaza on Sunday. The plaza will be closed for about one year for a more than $1.8 million facelift, which includes a new kiosk, another small cafe building and a water wall, which is a decorative fountain.
Two regular features of downtown are relocating as a result: the farmers market and the homeless.
Gainesville city officials worked with farmers market representatives to find the best fit to relocate the weekly Union Street Farmers Market. They took into consideration areas that were close to the original location, accessibility and parking. The spot they found was a parking lot on the corner of Southwest Second Street and Southwest First Avenue, across the street from Loosey’s Downtown Gainesville.
A CRA project manager, Nathalie McCrate, said the farmers market used to sit on that lot.
The city is prepping the site by adding things like electrical sources for vendors and doing general clean up.
The second question people ask, she said, is what will happen to the homeless people. City workers, Gainesville Police and volunteers with Grace Marketplace have been working on outreach to any homeless people who might be left living on the plaza even after Grace opened.
“We’ve been working for a long time to make the transition as smooth as possible,” she said.
GPD Captain Brian Helmerson said police and volunteers have handed out fliers with information about the renovation to the homeless population that list resources like the St. Francis House that the homeless can utilize.
Theresa Lowe, the executive director of the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry, said if any are left it will be a little easier for them to move compared with the move from Tent City, another place in Gainesville where the homeless often stayed.
“Most of the people staying on the plaza don’t have a lot of stuff with them,” she said. “The people in Tent City had their lives around them, but these only have one or two bags.”
Since Grace opened last summer, an influx of homeless relocated from the southeast and downtown areas into the shelter and a new tent city on the outskirts of the complex, called Dignity Village.
Lowe said she doesn’t expect a huge number of people to come out to the shelter after renovations begin because of the decreased number of homeless downtown.
Capt. Helmerson said once Oelrich Construction, Inc. erects fences around the area, it is their responsibility to monitor it, but if there are any straggling homeless, GPD will be ready to respond.
Some homeless who are left, Lowe said, might be there because they have mental illness.
“It’s scary to change,” she said. “However bad it is where they are, they know what’s there — they know what to expect.”
If the homeless do return after the plaza is finished, they won’t be barred from the new space.
“The goal isn’t to kick people out, but to make everyone feel welcome,” Nathalie McCrate said. “We want to make the plaza welcoming to everyone — parents, kids, students, even the homeless will be able to enjoy our new space.”
[A version of this story ran on page 1 - 4 on 2/27/2015 under the headline “Bo Diddley Plaza to close for renovations Sunday”]
Emily Cardinali is the freelance editor of the Alligator and a 20-year-old journalism and Chinese senior. She hopes to work for NPR and have a black pug named Fat Warren.