Published: September 21, 2018. Updated: October 30, 2018.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Not much has changed since a dispute between Gainesville in January threatened the bread and butter of the city’s redevelopment agency.
City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos maintained that Alachua County attempted a “hostile takeover” six months after they sought representation on city community redevelopment agencies (CRAs). The maneuver “severely impacted the [Gainesville] CRA. A lot of projects were put on hold, and we had to freeze hiring” Hayes-Santos said.
Luckily, however, this means the squabble failed to stall CRA renovations on portions of South Main Street in downtown Gainesville, which runs from Depot Park to Southeast 16th Avenue. The city has said the renovations are on track for completion in January.
As of Wednesday, “Destination South Main,” the project’s official title, is 55 percent finished. The next few weeks should see a reopened Gainesville–Hawthorne State Trail and “pedestrian-activated crosswalk warning lights for motorists” according to a CRA newsletter.
Roundabouts serve in place of traditional intersections to throttle traffic flow and ensure pedestrian society. One already exists adjacent to Depot Park and predates the project, but the Gainesville CRA has built another one intersecting Southeast 10th Avenue, adjacent to Graybar Electric Company, the firm providing the conduit for the project.
Hayes-Santos praised the work on South Main Street in an interview. He said the corridor had precluded safe passage for pedestrians and motorists.
“It was dangerous to navigate unless you’re in an automobile,” he said.
Statutorily, CRAs are designed to alleviate urban decay. Hayes-Santos said that boosts in private investment after the project is completed will traffic economic gains into low-income communities like Porters, which lies right outside the project’s jurisdiction.
Much of Alachua County’s attempt to be represented in city CRAs, however, lay in doubts that flow of financial prosperity will actually happen.
County Commissioner Ken Cornell, while proffering praise for CRAs, criticized their efficacy in effecting the change residents seek. He said that the agencies neglect issues of slum and blight, slamming high-cost, luxury renovations like those of College Park and University Heights.
With the county’s blessing, Florida Rep. Chuck Clemons, R–Newberry, introduced House Bill 1237 to codify Alachua County Commission representation on all city CRAs in its jurisdiction. The bill would have allowed the county four out of seven seats on CRA boards, constituting roughly two-thirds representation.
Gainesville city officials thus saw the move as a hijack of city sovereignty.
Cornell said, however, that much of the fuss was over funding, not CRA representation. Alachua County furnishes two-thirds of the Gainesville CRA budget. Cornell said the county merely sought to provide half.
Cornell said cities exercise vast discretion in determining if particular redevelopment is satisfactory. Projects that cities mark as “successes” no longer receive taxpayer dollars. He feared that municipalities will abuse this discretion and continue to demand funding.
In an interview at City Hall, Hayes-Santos rebutted this notion of funding ad infinitum. The city statutorily must set a date of expiry when funding for a particular project ceases.
The city of Gainesville hired Liquid Creative, a local marketing firm, to handle the branding and advertising for Destination South Main.
In an email, Vice President of Operations Scott Schroeder said said that redevelopment will take hold immediately following the project’s wrap-up in January and come to fruition in a year’s time.
“In five years, the area will look quite different,” he said. “In ten years, it will be completely redeveloped.”
Fiona Apps, Fred Pohls, and Marielle Volz contributed reporting.