City could be close to final decision on high-rise complex


Shown is a computer rendering of a proposed 23-story hotel that would be part of Midtown, one of three buildings planned for SW 2nd Avenue.

Published: Friday, January 3, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 3, 2003 at 1:05 a.m.

Gainesville officials could make a final decision next week on the proposed development of a high-rise complex of offices, apartments and retail stores that would change the city's skyline.

The city's Development Review Board will meet Thursday to consider approval of Midtown, a trio of buildings more than 20 stories high planned for the south side of the intersection at SW 2nd Avenue and SW 6th Street.

Developers of the project say it will add hundreds of apartments to the local student rental market - and revive the economically depressed area between downtown Gainesville and the University of Florida campus.

"This is the biggest project of this sort ever built in Gainesville," said David Coffey, attorney for Boca Raton developers Marvin and Ben Schachter, the father-and-son team who plan to build the complex.

The Schachters plan to build a trio of mixed-use buildings, all of them around 280 feet in height, on the SW 2nd Avenue site. One of those buildings would be a 300-bed hotel, and the other two would be mixed-use buildings featuring office space, retail shops and several hundred apartments for UF students. A 630-space parking garage would occupy the lower floors of one of the buildings.

The Schachters' original plan was for a two-building complex - a hotel and a student apartment building - with a projected cost of $70 million or more. While an exact estimate for the expanded, three-building plan isn't available, Coffey said Midtown now is expected to cost "several hundred million dollars."

In the past, city officials have welcomed the project, which they said could bring life to that stretch of SW 2nd Avenue, where undeveloped lots and abandoned buildings are a common sight.

The project's developers say the Midtown site, a few minutes' walk from campus or downtown, is a perfect place to house UF students. And they say UF's plans to boost its graduate enrollment should create a market for high-rise apartments.

"The economy may be soft right now, but UF seems to be immune to the problems in the stock market," Coffey said.

Midtown has met with opposition from some long-time Gainesville residents who say a high-rise complex would threaten the city's small-town atmosphere.

"It's going to look totally out of place," said Erica Miles, a northeast Gainesville resident for 28 years. "This isn't Orlando or Miami, and people don't want their city to look like Orlando or Miami."

Development Review Board Vice Chairman Stephen Boyes says he hasn't made up his mind on Midtown - but he says he's not opposed to the concept of high-rises in downtown Gainesville.

"The concept is to make the town grow taller," he said. "If you put a limit on building height downtown, we'll just continue to grow outward as we have in the past. I don't think people really want that, either."

If the Development Review Board approves the Midtown project Thursday, Coffey said, construction could begin before the middle of this year. Coffey said the project would take "several years" to complete.

The Development Review Board will meet at City Hall at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday to consider approval of the project.

Tim Lockette can be reached at 374-5088 or lockett@gvillesun.com.

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