Just miles from a swamp of orange and blue sits a rich history of Black neighborhoods.
Although Gainesville residents have adapted to the college environment within the city, many UF students living within the university bubble will never learn about East Gainesville’s history.
The Gainesville Community Reinvestment Area, which is now a department of the city commission, was created in 1979 to reinvest in underserved communities and reverse what community members felt was years of neglect. It was then known as The City of Gainesville Downtown Community Redevelopment Agency, which began to revamp College Park/University Heights, Fifth Avenue/Pleasant Street, Downtown and Eastside.
Throughout the past two decades of reform, the initial GCRA tax funds were used exclusively to invest in the four redevelopment areas but are now extended to the one reinvestment area set by the city and county commission.
The GCRA was involved with major projects including the redevelopment of the 17-acre “Power District” between downtown and Depot Park in 2016 and a $3.5 million dollar Midtown makeover in 2017.
Former District 1 City Commissioner Scherwin Henry, whose jurisdiction included the majority of Gainesville’s east side, worked on the development of the often underserved area from 2006 to 2012. Henry witnessed the GCRA become a city department after years of working under a Florida statute.
“The county felt that the College Park area had become self-sufficient and did not need the degree of reinvestment that it was receiving,” he said. “They felt that those dollars could be redirected to other areas such as East Gainesville.”
Henry believes the GCRA hasn’t kept the promises it was founded upon, and it could have served as an economic catalyst for districts in need of reinvestment.
“There has been minimal reinvestment in the East Gainesville area as well as the Pleasant Street area,” he said.
As a part of its 10-year reinvestment plan, the GCRA promised economic development initiatives, infrastructure improvements, and housing and food reinvestment. The plans were proposed and approved in March 2020.
Still some are skeptical about the GCRA’s involvement in East Gainesville’s neighborhoods.
Chanae Jackson, a 41-year-old community activist, was interested in seeing the fruition of The Historical Heritage Trail, a project to mark the cultural significance and historic landmarks of Fifth Avenue and Pleasant Street. But she is disappointed the city has delayed the project since 2009.
“A lot of people are really unaware that Black people in East Gainesville have a rich history,” Jackson said. “It’s always pushed back.”
She believes the department doesn’t implement programs that align with the Black community’s wants and needs. It’s important that the GCRA hires more consultants who are East Gainesville natives, she said.
Although it’s vital for East Gainesville residents to be a part of the reinvestment conversation, she said she knows people who tried to participate and did not have their concerns heard.
“True investment in the community are things like health care centers and accessible grocery stores,” Jackson said. “The GCRA is not improving the quality of life of the community with their investment projects.”
Tricia Lopez, a project manager and advisory board liaison for GCRA, is currently looking for applicants for their citizen’s advisory board. The selected 15 participants will represent their community by attending a monthly meeting for a two-year term. The deadline to apply for a position on the board is Aug. 31. Decisions made during citizen advisory board meetings are reported to the assistant city manager and the city commission.
Lopez is aware East Gainesville residents are anxiously waiting for the start of projects after seeing many of them share their feelings in GCRA meetings.
“With only an eight-person team and limited funding, we could not start all of our projects at once,” Lopez said.
Sheila Payne, a 64-year-old Gainesville resident, has participated in a few GCRA citizen’s advisory board meetings and is on the executive board of the Alachua County Labor Coalition.
She believes the No. 1 priority of a department like the GCRA should be building more housing.
“I am disgusted with both the city and county's lack of getting more housing built,” she said. “Too much money is spent on community outreach and listening sessions and not enough on finding those organizations who can tap into federal and non-profit money to partner with to build and manage affordable housing.”
Ultimately, for decades, the GCRA has been trying to strengthen the roots of people in the neighborhoods it knows and loves.
Contact Jiselle Lee at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @jiselle_lee.
Jiselle Lee is a second-year journalism student and the East Gainesville Reporter. This is her second semester at The Alligator, and she is excited to continue her work at the Metro desk. In her spare time, she enjoys eating her way around Gainesville.