Soon-to-be-sold gators create own market

Area children from kindergarten to high school are finalists competing for the chance to have their miniature hand-painted statue become the 60th Gator Trail gator. Chosen from more than 700 entries, only one of these 13 statuettes will become a Gator Trail gator.

(LEE FERINDEN/Special to The Sun)
Published: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 2:42 a.m.

They've spawned a line of T-shirts, coffee-table books and posters. And some people are eyeing them as living-room knickknacks or poolside decorations.

Seven months after the first Gator Trails statue was unveiled, the 100-pound, 5-foot fiberglass gators have become a hit, project coordinator Jennifer Beaman said.

"People were thinking they were going to find plastic alligators on the street," she said.

"They didn't know what to expect, so there was a lot of negative criticism. As soon as the gators hit the street, it improved."

Since then, the Gator Trails statues have been featured on posters, T-shirts, coffee-table books and 12-inch paint-it-yourself plaster statuettes. The city has sold about $5,000 worth of Gator Trails merchandise.

"Really, overall these projects have become a phenomenon," Beaman said.

Gator Trails is a public-private partnership between the city and individuals or companies, who pay $2,500 to sponsor a gator design.

The 59th gator, Able Gator, sponsored by the Florida Institute for Workforce Innovation, was installed last week at 249 W. University Ave.

The city will unveil the 60th and final gator in mid-February. The design for that gator will be chosen from among the top 13 entries in a contest by local students.

The public will choose the top design through an Internet vote on www.gainesvillesun. com through Jan. 26.

The gators will be taken down during the last two weeks of March, and auctioned on April 12.

Proceeds will help promote tourism, the arts, recreation and sports in Gainesville and Alachua County.

Beaman said some interested buyers have said they'd like to put the gators by their pool or in their living room. Out-of-state UF fans and fans from South Florida are also interested. And some sponsors want them to stay outside the offices where they are now.

"I have a lot of people who are really wanting them, so I think a few of them will go really high," Beaman said, adding she hopes to start bids at $2,000.

Even though Gator Trails is expected to raise money, the project has had its share of problems.

Three gators - Red, White and Blue Gator at Paradigm Properties, Patriogator at SunTrust Bank on Main Street, and Power Gator, located in front of Gainesville City Hall - had their hands broken off within a two-week span last summer. They were temporarily taken off the streets for repairs.

Others have been the targets of smaller acts of vandalism.

"Gator Grad's cap keeps getting stolen," Beaman said.

Overall, the city has spent about $5,000 on repairs because of vandalism and wear and tear caused by the weather.

In October, the "Live a Vacation" gator, valued at $1,000, was stolen from in front of the gated Oxford Manor apartment complex on Archer Road. The gator, which sported blue shorts with red polka dots, sunglasses, a water bottle and tennis racket, still hasn't been recovered or replaced.

Gainesville Police Cpl. Keith Kameg said there aren't any suspects in the gator kidnapping, but police haven't given up hope.

"It's our belief that it's probably in an apartment somewhere, and somebody sees it every day," he said. "It's usually at the end of the semester when property like this starts showing up."

Kameg said it wouldn't be impossible to steal one of the gators, which are bolted through a steel plate into a 600-pound block of concrete. But they're cumbersome and located in visible spots, making it difficult to cart one off.

Ironically, the rash of vandalism may have ultimately helped keep the gators safe, he said.

"It (Gator Trails) is something that Gainesville is proud of, and people will look out for them. I think people are very impressed with what it is, and there's a lot of pride in the community," he said.

Ashley Rowland can be reached at 374-5095 or

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