Starting in the spring, Bo Diddley Community Plaza will undergo extensive renovations aimed at making it the face of downtown Gainesville.
The makeover will focus on the north side of the plaza that faces University Avenue, but the entire plaza will be closed starting March, said Sarah Vidal-Finn, manager of the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency, which is spearheading the project.
The renovations are expected to take about a year to complete, but when completed, it will bring new features to the area meant to enhance foot traffic.
“It really comes down to the plaza being utilized more at all times during the day, not just for special events,” Vidal-Finn said. “Ours is kind of dormant during the day.”
The agency does not have a cost estimate yet but has budgeted more than $1 million for the project.
With the plaza under renovation for a year, Vidal-Finn said the agency is working closely with the City of Gainesville to find alternate locations downtown for the Farmers market and other plaza events.
Still, the homeless who often occupy the plaza will have to find a new place to stay, said Theresa Lowe, executive director of the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry.
Grace Marketplace will be encouraging people to move to its 2845 NE 39th Ave. location, she said.
“We will spend time on the plaza doing outreach for the people that are staying there so they know there are other options for them,” Lowe said.
Once construction is done, she said part of the goal of the renovation is that the homeless won’t return.
“I think the city is hoping during the time the renovations are going on, people will find other locations to provide the services they are providing downtown,” Lowe said.
But Vidal-Finn said the project will give residents the renovations they have been asking for over the years.
“From the community meetings that we’ve hosted over the years, the consistent message is that citizens would like to see more events, a greater feeling of safety and cleanliness, more activities and vendors on a daily basis and more things to do during the daytime on the plaza,” she said.
The centerpiece of the renovation will be a water wall, which Vidal-Finn said will run over a mesh curtain on the brick building behind the stage.
“What we are trying to do is create an iconic downtown entryway,” she explained.
The northeast side of the project will see the addition of a cafe — similar to The Lunchbox — to attract customers and workers downtown to the plaza.
The cafe will have floor-to-ceiling windows and a new information kiosk, which will sell tickets to people looking to rent the plaza for events.
Vidal-Finn said enhancing the space for larger events is a major goal.
A green room will be added to the brick building behind the stage to give performers a space to change and prepare for shows, making the plaza better equipped for large performances, Vidal-Finn said. The stage will remain where it is.
The plaza will extend about 9 feet into the existing bus lane that runs east to west on University Avenue, and a new bus stop with a shelter will be built adjacent to the Alachua County Courthouse. Enhanced bike facilities are also part of the project.
The entire plaza will benefit from landscaping, painting and pressure washing, too.
“It’s just a great thing for downtown,” Vidal-Finn said.
[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 12/5/2014]
Above is a rendering of the Bo Diddley Community Plaza’s planned renovation, which will include a new cafe, information kiosk, green room and water wall feature. It will close for renovations in March.
A resident of Bo Diddley Community Plaza sits on a bench on the plaza, looking across at Christmas lights Thursday night. The plaza will close due to renovations, leaving a lot of its residents without a place to stay.