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Sunday, May 09, 2021

New downtown development project, police advisory council coming to Gainesville in January

Downtown renovations will total more than $385,000

Gainesville will have new renovations downtown and a police advisory council at the start of the new year.

The Gainesville City Commission approved renovations that total more than $385,000 during a Thursday meeting. The commission also extended applications for a police advisory council to January, citing a need for greater diversity of applicants.

The renovations will be on a downtown plot of land across the street from the Hippodrome. The site is a 134,000 square foot development project slated to begin construction in January.

Streets and sidewalks in the area will be repaved, brighter street lights will be placed and more parking will be available, said Sarah Vidal, director of the Gainesville Community Reinvestment Area, a city agency tasked with promoting private development in the city’s urban area.

The development project, a six-story, mixed-use building located around 212 SE First St., will include a Hyatt Place hotel, leased retail and office space and apartments, Vidal said. The city commission approved the sale of the property in May 2019.

The project’s developer, Magnolia Street Hospitalities LLC, offered to make the infrastructure improvements if the city paid for the improvements’ costs, Vidal said.

The cost of the project will come from the Gainesville Community Reinvestment Area fund, which is funded through reserves in the agency’s annual budget reserved for infrastructure improvements, Vidal said. The Downtown Gainesville portion of the fund had a $4.69 million balance in 2019.

Construction of the Hyatt project and infrastructure renovations are expected to be completed July 2022, Vidal said.

Citing a need for infrastructure improvements in the area, City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said he supported the partnership.

“This sidewalk area is in poor condition,” he said. “There are holes. There is dirt. It is not reflective of our downtown.”

During the meeting, the commission also voted unanimously to reopen applications to its Police Advisory Council, which reviews closed Gainesville Police Department internal investigations cases and advises the city manager and commission on policing policies. 

While appointments to the council were made by the city manager, the commission voted this summer to the city commission to vote on applicants. The commission initially considered 16 applicants for the counsel’s 11 vacancies but opted to extend the application window to January out of concern about diversity in the applicant pool.

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The applicants, while qualified, didn’t offer the diversity needed, City Commissioner Harvey Ward said.

“My hope from this was we would have more representation from younger people and people of color,” he said.

Of the 16 applicants, four were people of color. None of the applicants were longtime Gainesville residents younger than 30.

City Commissioner Gail Johnson said she wanted to encourage members of local advocacy groups to apply for the counsel. She mentioned the GoDDsville Dream Defenders, a local chapter of a civil rights advocacy organization that planned multiple Black Lives Matter protests this year.

“The reason why we are here in part is because of the work and suggestions of people in our community,” Johnson said. “I think that we should do some targeted outreach to the groups that brought us here.”

The vacancies will be filled during the commission’s first meeting in January.

Contact Tristan at twood@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @TristanDWood.

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