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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
Opinions generic
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More than 40 years ago, private investment abandoned East Gainesville. Where bank branches, supermarkets and restaurants once served thriving neighborhoods, liquor stores, Dollar Generals and vacant lots became what passed for commerce.

But in 2023, after years of planning, dreaming and negotiating, we said “enough,” and we’re seeing the fruits of collaboration bloom to serve our “out East” neighbors. 

In an unprecedented partnership, the City of Gainesville joined forces with Alachua County and UF Health to begin construction on a UF Health urgent care clinic on Hawthorne Road in summer 2023. By summer 2024 it will begin to serve patients with traditional medical care and enhanced diagnostic and laboratory services, as well as the surrounding neighborhoods with a community gathering space. 

Additionally, this year the city will build an RTS transfer hub on the same property to help neighbors access jobs and services across Gainesville with our award-winning transit system, as well as expand a city street to connect Hawthorne Road to Southeast Eighth Avenue. The City of Gainesville also plans to build-out infrastructure for commercial development and both affordable and market-rate housing on acreage next-door to the clinic. 

Speaking of housing, in 2023, the City of Gainesville committed more than seven million dollars in funding to private and public partners who will begin building affordable housing in our community in 2024. One of the city’s housing partners, the Gainesville Housing Authority, in collaboration with the City of Gainesville’s staff and commission, won a highly competitive half-million-dollar federal “Choice Neighborhoods” planning grant from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

Winning this planning grant puts our community in the unprecedented position to win a full Choice Neighborhoods implementation grant in excess of $30 million, which will be transformative for East Gainesville and the larger community in ways we can’t even begin to explain at this point. 

We made huge strides forward in planning a complete renovation of the Citizens Field/MLK Center complex at Eighth Avenue and Waldo Road, and the plans for that project, which will serve all of Gainesville but will deliver the greatest impact to neighbors in East Gainesville in 2024.

Of course, East Gainesville isn’t the only part of our community that moved forward in 2023. 

In 2023, we won nearly $10 million in federal grants to help rebuild University Avenue into a safer street that saves lives and better serves everyone who uses it, from the eastern city limit past the UF campus. We are rebuilding North Main Street with bike lanes, and recently learned that we will finish ahead of schedule in February. Also early in 2024, we will begin the process of rebuilding Northeast Ninth Street into a “Complete Street” with direct input from the East Gainesville neighbors it serves, and we expect that project to finish in 2024.

In 2023, our city revived an old tradition to great applause and with private funding when Santa Claus and former Florida football coach and Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrier joined the Gainesville City Commission in “A Very GNV Holiday Parade” down University Avenue. We re-opened renovated and expanded versions of Westside and Forest Parks and the Spurgeon Cherry Municipal Pool. 

But the past is prologue, and we have much work to do. In 2024, you should expect renovation of the historic Boulware Springs, and please help us welcome a large new independent bookstore to South Main Station near Depot Park. We’ll work to build plans for the Sweetwater Branch Trail on downtown’s eastern border. We’ll re-focus on downtown itself, as several new restaurants prepare to open at the Hyatt and in older, historic spaces Downtown, and we’ll unveil plans for improved Downtown services in January. 

Also in January, join us at Depot Park as “Hoggetowne Goes Downtown,” and the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire makes a free one-weekend return to Downtown.

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Of course, we’ll continue to work with public and private partners to help our houseless neighbors, and we know the fight against gun violence continues. We have learned that partnership and collaboration are the path forward, and we will continue to build bridges with the UF, Santa Fe College, Alachua County, Alachua County Public Schools and the Chamber of Commerce. We will also continue to grow our relationships with federal departments and seek more grant support and funding from them. 

Gainesville is one of the largest cities in Florida — No. 13 of 412. We are known as THE place in Florida to enjoy college and high school sports, as well as Florida’s Cultural Capital. 

In 2024, we will see East Gainesville and the rest of our city continue to move forward, to embrace the future as we respect our history. I’m glad you’re here with us to do both. 

Harvey Ward is the Gainesville mayor.

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