Downtown's star rising
Published: Saturday, October 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 1, 2005 at 12:44 a.m.
When it comes to the future of development in Gainesville, things are looking up.
FYI: Gainesville Greens
Twelve stories up, to be exact.
City Commissioners last week selected Gainesville Greens, a $39 million project that will pack 134 condominiums, three restaurants, stores and office space into a high-rise complex, as the winning bid for the development of city Parking Lot 10. The development would rise 12 floors above the intersection of SW 1st Street and SW 2nd Avenue, making it one of the few buildings in the city with floors in the double digits.
The project, which includes an L-shaped tower opening into a central courtyard lined with shops, cafes and upscale restaurants, is a way to bring people and business back to the downtown area, said Barney Danzansky, one of the project's developers.
"If you build quality housing proximate to where people live, work and play, they'll come back in," said Danzansky, president of the Fort Lauderdale-based Equity Ventures Realty.
Gainesville Greens beat three other proposals for a chance to build on city Parking Lot 10, a less than one-acre lot that many city officials have said is a vital link in the city's ongoing efforts to bolster the downtown economy. The property abuts the new, city-owned Southwest Parking Garage and connects the nightlife of SW 1st Avenue with SW 2nd Avenue, a key corridor targeted by the commission for development.
Competition for the site is a sign the city's redevelopment strategies for the downtown area are beginning to pay off, said Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency Manager Karen Slevin.
"It's almost as if we've turned the corner from where we're out there begging people, 'Please put up stuff,' to where we have people competing to build," Slevin said. "It's nice to have choices."
But a number of aspects of Gainesville Greens, which could be completed about three years from the date it gets final city approval, made it stand out for redevelopment, officials and city commissioners said.
The construction and design of the building will be undertaken with energy efficiency and conservation in mind, Danzansky said.
The project will contain 14 "affordable" housing units identical to the other two-bedroom/two-bathroom homes in the development but priced at about 40 percent below market rate. And the open design of the complex fits with the pedestrian-oriented "new urbanist" philosophy of many commissioners.
"They really did a good job of presenting a lot of the concerns we have locally, the values and standards that Gainesville finds important," said Gainesville City Commissioner Warren Nielsen.
In fact, many of the features offered by the project are prized highly enough by the city to be eligible for incentives. Gainesville Greens will seek about $1.95 million in property tax reimbursements over 15 years, expected to be about 60 percent of the city and county taxes the project would pay in that period, to help cover some of the costs, Danzansky said.
These incentives are now available under a program the city offers for projects capable of transforming the neighborhoods in which they are built.
Though the project will certainly stand out in a downtown where most of the tallest buildings only reach five stories, urban planners said the forces driving development of larger and taller buildings are being seen around the country.
The primary reason to build upward is economic, said Grant Thrall, a University of Florida geography professor and business location consultant.
"Typically, you don't go vertical until the land values are so high you can't go horizontal anymore," Thrall said.
Gainesville may not have reached that point yet, Thrall said, noting that he would expect more developments similar to the substantially shorter and more spread out condominiums of Regent's Park at this stage in the city's development. However, the unique circumstances surrounding the sale of a city lot may have spurred upward development in this case, he said.
But nationally, more and more people are coming back to downtowns, driven by a combination of economic and demographic concerns, said Ruth Steiner, a UF associate professor in the department of urban and regional planning.
Living downtown helps residents avoid the congestion of living in a suburban area, a choice that grows more costly as gas prices increase, Steiner said.
In addition, the proportion of the country that would be interested in downtown living - primarily those without children - is becoming larger, Steiner said.
This demographic shift is occurring as baby boomers see their children leaving home, resulting in both parents and children who are independent and could be drawn to the conveniences of a downtown lifestyle, she said.
These conveniences include easy access to restaurants, nightlife and cultural activities and a short commute to the government and legal offices downtown, Thrall said.
But what Gainesville's skyline will look like in a few years could depend on just how well a high-rise does, Steiner said.
"Success breeds success," Steiner said.
Jeff Adelson can be reached at (352) 374-5095 or email@example.com.
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