Wal-Mart's supercenter could replace Northside Park


Published: Friday, January 7, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 7, 2005 at 1:11 a.m.
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Mike Murphy, 27, takes a daily lunch break at Northside Park on Dec. 22. Murphy said he rides his bike to work at Ace Hardware/Central Builders Supply, 6800 NW 22nd Street, from the 3900 block of Hawthorne Road. He said that he enjoys spending his break at the park. "It's a quiet little place on the way," Murphy said.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
In recent weeks, the regulars at Gainesville's Northside Park have found themselves sharing the space with a new group of visitors who aren't there to walk their dog or play a few holes on the park's disc golf course.
The newcomers - engineers and surveyors working for Wal-Mart - have been doing preliminary site work on the property to see whether, as some city officials suggest, it is suitable for one of the retailer's supercenters.
Wal-Mart officials have preliminarily agreed to putting a store at the Northside Park site, located at NW 34th Street and U.S. 441, Wal-Mart spokesman Glen Wilkens said. But before putting forth a formal proposal, the retailer's engineers must examine the site, a process that includes taking soil samples, surveying and measuring the site and noting various features of the property.
But some of those who use the site and live nearby say the process is moving too quickly.
"It seems a little premature to me," said Shawn Harrigan, a frequent park visitor and president of the Gainesville Disc Golf Club. "Nobody has really discussed any of this with the people in the community."
Harrigan and other residents said the supercenter proposal, originally suggested after the company twice failed to gain city approval for a development on a site about a mile away, at NW 53rd Avenue and U.S. 441, is making regulars nervous about the future of recreation in northwest Gainesville.
Particularly of concern for Harrigan is Gainesville's growing disc golf community. The course at Northside, built about 15 years ago, is the only one in Alachua County for the more than 200 people who regularly enjoy the sport, he said.
Disc golf is almost identical to its more commonly recognized cousin, with small discs - similar to Frisbees - thrown at baskets, rather than balls hit toward holes. The sport is growing in popularity locally, with Northside hosting the Gator Country Classic, an event on the Professional Disc Golf Association tour, as well as two statewide events each year, Harrigan said.
Eighty-five disc golfers competed in last year's Gator Country Classic for $8,801 in prize money, according to the association.
If Wal-Mart decides to situate its supercenter on Northside, the retailer will likely have to replace it with a park at the 53rd Avenue site. However, some people who rely on Northside for recreation are worried about losing the park before a replacement can be built on the 53rd Avenue site. Wooded, swampy areas, like those found at both Northside Park and the 53rd Avenue site, are ideal for the sport, which focuses heavily on dealing with obstacles, Harrigan said.
For a deal at Northside Park to go through, city officials said Wal-Mart would have to offer the larger 53rd Avenue property as a trade. In addition, the retailer would have to develop the site as a park to replace the Northside facilities.
City officials estimate replacing the amenities at the park would cost about $1 million. Wilkens said the company is prepared to replace the park's facility, including the disc golf course.
Jonathan Coron, who lives near Northside at the Northwood Oaks subdivision, said he worried about the loss of a park, especially after the recent failure of Alachua County's Better Parks-Better Roads sales tax, which would have provided funding for recreation projects.
These concerns would be mitigated if similar, or improved, facilities could be built to serve the same community, said Coron, who said his position as a wellness education specialist at Columbia Correctional Institution gave him a particularly keen interest in recreation.
"If we're going to replace one space for another, it would be in our best interest to make that space far better," Coron said. "It would be a win-win scenario instead of a win-lose."
Harrigan said replacing the facilities at Northside with a similar, nearby facility would solve most of the community's concerns. But, he said it was important that improvement of the NW 53rd Avenue site begin before construction at Northside, so that people who depend on the park have a place to go during the site's development.
Wal-Mart officials are interested in developing the Northside Park site along with a second property on Waldo Road in east Gainesville, Wilkens said.
The Waldo Road site has been pushed by commissioners and residents who have said it could help jump-start economic development on Gainesville's east side.
"We would want to do this in tandem, both sites together," Wilkens said. "It's not one before the other."
But Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan said the commission is bound to look at each proposal on its own merits.
"They consider those a package deal," Hanrahan said. "I don't think legally we can consider them a package deal."
Jeff Adelson can be reached at 374-5095 or adelsoj@gvillesun.com.

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