Midtown receives go-ahead

Published: Saturday, January 11, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 10, 2003 at 11:03 p.m.
Gainesville's skyline is going to change.
Preliminary plans for Midtown, a complex of high-rise apartments, parking garages and a luxury hotel, were approved 2-1 by Gainesville's Development Review Board early Friday morning, after hours of discussion.
Board Chairman Stephen Boyes, who voted in favor of the project, said Midtown will give an "economic infusion" into an area that's now home to abandoned buildings and empty lots.
But another board member said she didn't know if a project of Midtown's size was needed.
"I have a problem with the need for something on such a large scale. I see quite a lot of available rentals in the inner city area," said Monica Cooper, the sole vote against the project.
Joel Houston said he was sympathetic to opponents of Midtown, but in the end, he voted in favor of the project.
"I personally like what I see there (plans for Midtown) better than what I see now," he said.
Board members Pat Polopolus and Troy Finnegan, a non-voting student adjunct member, did not attend the meeting.
Midtown, which is being developed by Ben Schachter of Boca Raton, will be located between SW 5th Street and SW 6th Street, and SW 2nd Avenue and SW 4th Avenue. It will consist of two 23-story buildings - an undergraduate apartment complex and a luxury hotel - and a 26-story apartment complex for graduate students.
The two apartment complexes would be 280 feet tall, dwarfing the city's tallest building, the Seagle Building, which stands at 130 feet.
The project is expected to receive final approval in a few months after the developers make minor revisions requested by the city to their plans.
Supporters of the project have said it would revitalize an economically depressed area, and help existing downtown businesses.
Opponents have said the buildings are too tall, and their design is better suited for a South Florida metropolis than Gainesville.
Ken McGurn, who has developed a number of properties in downtown Gainesville, was skeptical that Schachter could finance the project, which carries a pricetag of between $300 million and $500 million.
He said it would be expensive to build Midtown because of its height.
"I don't know if they will be able to get the cost and financing in line to make it economically feasible. I wish them all the luck in the world, but that's a tough one to finance," he said.
"There are some tough building codes that make any building that's more than three floors high much more expensive than a normal one- or two-story building," he said.
David Coffey, the Gainesville attorney for Schachter, the developer of the project, said funding would not be a problem.
"We didn't get this far without them being busy arranging the financing. They're quite confident that they will get the financial commitments needed," he said.
Schachter did not return The Sun's calls on Friday.
Ed Poppell, the University of Florida's vice president of administrative affairs, said UF has supported the project because it would link the campus with downtown.
"We think that it will improve the density in a small area that will continue to enhance our mass transit," he said.
Poppell said he wasn't concerned about Midtown's aesthetic appearance or its height. The Seagle Building, built around 1926, was probably considered tall when it was built, he said. "Can you imagine what an 11-story building looked like 77 years ago?" he said. "Gainesville needs to be looking up anyway so we can conserve the precious tree canopies."
Some residents have expressed frustration that a non-elected board was able to approve Midtown, and said there was little they could do to prevent Midtown from being developed.
Gainesville Planning Manager Ralph Hilliard said the Development Review Board acts as a check-and-balance system, making sure staff does its job.
"Gainesville has adopted a citizen-participation process that I like to say does some check and balances," he said. "In a lot of cities, these types of projects are just approved by staff."
But the board is limited in what it can do, Hilliard said.
"Really, the law says if it meets all your codes, you're supposed to approve that development," he said. "They can't deny it because they didn't like it."
Ashley Rowland can be reached at 374-5095 or rowlana@gvillesun.com.


Developer's attorney says funding is no problem


  • LOCATION: Between SW 5th Street and SW 6th Street, and SW 2nd Avenue and SW 4th Avenue.
  • LANDSCAPE: Two 23-story buildings - an undergraduate apartment complex and a luxury hotel - and a 26-story apartment complex for graduate students.
    n INSIDE: Updated artist's renderings of Midtown's three phases.

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