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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Gainesville to begin $2.5 million-plus venue project for larger outdoor events

City has made plan for Festival and Arts Park project

<p>Bo Diddley Plaza pictured on Saturday, April 8, 2023.</p>

Bo Diddley Plaza pictured on Saturday, April 8, 2023.

Rebecca Nyros has attended the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire on and off since her daughter began middle school in 2014. 

However, its frequent location changes in recent years have made the 55-year-old Gainesville resident question whether her city has the space for such events.

The fair hasn’t taken place at the Alachua County Fairgrounds since it was sold by the county to the United States Army and moved locations in 2019. 

For several years after the move, the event took place in a field off Archer Road near Haile Plantation. This year, it was reduced to one weekend — instead of its usual three — and was hosted downtown at Depot Park.

“They don’t seem to have a permanent place,” she said. “They don’t seem to have a large enough place that they can use and set up and have enough parking and not impede traffic.”

Nyros isn’t sure Gainesville has enough space to efficiently host outdoor events of a large size, she said.

“You would need to have not only the space to hold the Faire and the vendors, but you would have to have parking,” she said. “You would have to have at least two roads that were access points for that space to make sure there weren’t terrible traffic backups and delays.”

Despite Gainesville's growth, residents and officials both recognize a need for a large-scale entertainment venue locally. There are no large outdoor venues within a four-mile radius of the city limits, said Leslie Ladendorf, assistant director of the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department for the city.

But the city has plans to find and construct a new space to host events of this size, she said.

“Funding has been allocated for the Festival and Arts Park project, which would create a 60-plus acre event venue to host small to large-scale events,” she said. “This project is in the early stages of trying to identify suitable property near the City of Gainesville.”

The project would primarily be funded through the Wild Spaces and Public Places surtax, with an initial $2.5 million already allocated to begin the project, she said.

Jason Maurer, the Alachua County Parks and Open Space director, said the surtax funds most outdoor space projects taken up by the county, which allocates portions of it to municipalities within, such as Gainesville. In addition, the county has a master plan to determine which areas need a park or other space, he said.

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“Our master plan identifies where we need to be focusing on property acquisition to help provide parks for people that don’t have easy access to them,” he said.

Maurer recognizes the importance of spaces of this type, he said.

“People want to be outside, and they want to be able to enjoy open spaces,” he said. “To look at that and prioritize that, I think, is important for our community, and I think our community has made it known that they want to see more of that.”

While Gainesville and the surrounding area may lack spaces for large outdoor events and festivals, some residents find the city and its parks to be a good space for outdoor exercise and recreation.

Shauna Dixon, a 62-year-old Gainesville resident, started a local parkrun in the city in 2018. The parks in and around Gainesville, including Depot Park, have been the perfect location for hosting the weekly 5K events, she said.

“Depot Park is a gem in the middle of the city,” Dixon said. “I’m there every Saturday morning and Depot Park is probably one of the prettiest parks I’ve seen in a very long time and it’s perfect for our use.”

The parks seem to reflect Gainesville’s character, she said.

“They’re all unique to Gainesville because of the scenery and the beautiful flora and fauna,” she said.

Contact Bailey Diem at Follow her on X @BaileyDiem.

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Bailey Diem

Bailey Diem is a first-year journalism major and a metro general assignment reporter for The Alligator. When not reporting, Bailey can be found playing guitar or getting lost in a book.

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