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Sunday, May 19, 2024

City attempts to address East Gainesville needs with $14 million plan

Facility promises health, economic development improvements

Every day for 17 years, rain or shine, Tommie Johnson rode his bike to and from work on UF campus, despite Gainesville’s existing transit system. 

Using the bus system would have actually made his life harder than dealing with the elements on two wheels, he said.

“They need a better bus system,” Johnson said. “In the bus system, you have to go to Rosa Parks and transfer from bus to bus to get to this side of town.”

Now at 63, Johnson has finally saved up for a car to commute from his home in northeast Gainesville — a luxury he doesn’t take for granted. 

Residents in East Gainesville without personal transit must find ways to commute to necessities like a hospital and grocery stores. The only U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved grocery store in East Gainesville is the Walmart on Northeast 12th Avenue and there’s no major primary care hospital east of Main Street.

Next year, the Gainesville Community Reinvestment Area Project is set to finish its new transit center, which will serve as a major stop for several bus routes, similar to the Rosa Parks Bus Station near Depot Park. 

The $14 million plan promises health and economic development improvements to East Gainesville over the next six years. 

The most significant part is the Cornerstone Campus, which will be located on Hawthorne Road in East Gainesville and will have an Regional Transit System mobility hub, a UF-run health center with access to dental care and resources to help residents access fresh food.

The GCRA informed the Gainesville City Commission Jan. 19 of updates to the plan. It has already spent $13 million on city projects such as developing the innovation district zone near UF campus and intends to put the largest chunk of funds into the Eastside Food/Mobility Hub, which is set to finish in 2024. 

But the plan doesn’t include any incentives for a community grocery store, an initiative that has been workshopped and eventually failed. 

The lack of a grocery store in the Eastside has rendered some census tracts to become food deserts, which is defined by the USDA as a tract where at least 100 households are located more than one-half mile from a grocery store with no vehicle access. With nowhere to buy fresh food nearby, residents must rely on transit.

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker, whose district encompasses much of East Gainesville, was the only commissioner who didn’t support the plan of incentivizing a UF clinic in her district. 

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The plan required the city to pay $2.5 million to complete the project, Duncan-Walker said. 

When Duncan-Walker saw a proposal, it just wasn’t enough, she said.

The commissioner would prefer a more comprehensive plan with a primary care hospital that would address taxpayers’ concerns, she said. 

Addressing the disparity between East Gainesville and the rest of the city is the main focus of Cornerstone Campus, also known as the Eastside Health and Economic Development Initiative. 

Construction will occur despite the rate of transit use declining twice as much in Florida compared to the nationwide average, according to a study by UF on transit in East Gainesville. 

The same study addressed equity and the need for transit expansion in East Gainesville. 

Not all residents are aware of the plans, but hopes are high for more services to those on the east side. 

Anthony Gainey Sr., a 61-year-old East Gainesville resident, said he feels these kinds of developments were a long time coming. He was quick to point out not much has ever been done during his life in East Gainesville.

“We have got to start somewhere,” Gainey said.

Contact Jake at Follow him on Twitter @JakeLyn20488762.

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Jake Lynch

Jake Lynch is a third-year journalism major. He is a South Florida native that loves to spend time with family and friends. He has no idea what he wants to do with his life but he hopes this helps.

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