Newcomer's Guide to Gainesville
Published: Monday, January 14, 2008 at 11:35 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 14, 2008 at 11:35 a.m.
Since you're reading this Newcomer's FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) on a computer, we’re going to cut to the chase and help you settle in to the Gainesville area as fast as possible.
The list of potential subjects for inclusion here is enormous, of course. But the goal of the guide is to focus on what’s most important to most new arrivals the first few days in town.
So, here are eight questions and answers to get you started:
Q: Where will my children attend school?
A: New residents should first call the school zoning office at (352) 955-7700 to find out. You may also want to visit the Web site of the Alachua County School Board at http://www.sbac.edu, or call the board at (352) 955-7300.
FACTOID: Alachua County has 30,000 students in 44 schools and centers, all accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The district has the highest percentage (60%) of instructional staff with advanced degrees in Florida.
Q: Whom do I call or visit for utility hookups, such as telephone, cable TV and power?
A: Gainesville Regional Utilities provides electric, gas, water, wastewater and telecommunications services in the urban area. Cal GRU at (352) 334-3434 or visit online at http://www.gru.com.
Cox Communications provides cable television service to the Gainesville area. Call Cox at (888) 269-9693 or visit online at http://www.cox.com/gainesvilleocala/.
Alachua County Office of Waste Collection, for county residents, can be reached at (352) 338-3233 or http://www.wastecollection.alachua.fl.us/.
City of Gainesville Garbage and Trash Collection, for city residents, can be reached at (352) 334-5042 or visit http://www.cityofgainesville.org/hosted/pubworks/sw_index.cfm.
BellSouth provides the area’s telephone infrastructure and is the leading telephone residential and business service provider. Call BellSouth at 1-888-757-6500 or, if out of region, 1-800-753-0710. Or visit http://www.bellsouth.com
FACTOID: In addition to being in one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, Gainesville and Alachua County, population 230,000 or so, also have a highly transient student population of about 62,000 young people, more than 25 percent of the total. Four times a year, there is major “churning” of utility accounts, phone numbers, newspaper subscriptions and other services.
Q: I’ve got a dog and a cat. Any special rules for them?
A: They need to be licensed, and in order to be licensed, you must have proof of rabies vaccination. Contact the Department of Animal Services at (352) 955-2333 or visit http://www.animalservices.alachua.fl.us/.
DRIVER LICENSE AND LICENSE PLATE
Q: How do I get a Florida driver license and a license plate for my car?
A: Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles advises new residents to 1. Obtain your Florida driver license; 2. Then obtain automobile insurance from a company licensed to do business in Florida, and 3. Finally, title and register your vehicle (obtain Florida license plate). Call (352) 955-2111 or visit http://www.hsmv.state.fl.us/offices/alachua.html to begin this process.
Q: If I have a medical emergency, or a fire breaks out or someone is breaking in, what do I do?
A: Dial 911 in any of those situations, and have your new address ready. Response will come from the appropriate city or county fire rescue or law enforcement unit. You can visit them online, too, for non-emergency information: Gainesville Fire Rescue at http://www.gfr.org/ , Alachua County Fire Rescue at http://www.firerescue.alachua.fl.us/ , Gainesville Police Department at www.gainesvillepd.org and Alachua County Sheriff’s Office at www.alachuasheriff.org
FACTOID: One 911 center now serves Gainesville and the surrounding area. Calls from both inside and outside the City of Gainesville are received by the Alachua County Consolidated Communications Center next to the Sheriff's Office at 2621 SE Hawthorne Road.
Q: Where do people shop around here?
A: Two major retail locations are the Oaks Mall and Butler Plaza.
At the Oaks Mall, just east of I-75 at Newberry Road, you’ll find over 140 stores including Abercrombie & Fitch, Ann Taylor, Bath & Body Works, The Children's Place, Hollister Co., Victoria's Secret, Yankee Candle Co. and and JoS. A. Bank. You can visit the Oaks Mall online at http://www.theoaksmall.com/html/Mallinfo.asp.
At Butler Plaza, just east of I-75 at Archer Road, you’ll find Target, Wal-Mart, Lowes, OfficeMax, Best Buy and Eckerd Drug Stores. Butler Plaza is also home to many restaurants: T.G.I. Fridays, Texas Roadhouse, Olive Garden, The Outback, Ale House, Hops, Checkers, Chili's and Taco Bell. You can visit Butler Plaza online at http://www.butlerplaza.com .
A smaller retail area, but closer to downtown Gainesville, is found on NW 13th Street, north of 23rd Avenue. You’ll find Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and other discounters in this area. Across town to the west, you'll find Home Depot off Tower Road, just west of I-75 and Newberry Road.
Thornebrook Village, at NW 34th Street and 23rd Boulevard, offers boutique and specialty stores, including wine and seafood retailers. Plaza Royale, just west of 34th Street on Newberry Road, offers a stadium-style movieplex, several restaurants and a Talbot’s.
Downtown Gainesville is home to Union Street Station (http://www.unionstreetstation.com ), a retail-residential complex with boutiques, restaurants, specialty retailers and residential condominiums. Union Street Station is adjacent to the award-winning Hippodrome Theatre, the Sun Center and other downtown restaurants, nightclubs and attractions.
FACTOID: Gainesville serves as the employment base and commercial center for a 12-county region with a population base of more than 850,000 within a 40-mile radius.
Q: Any tips on finding my way around Gainesville?
A: Ah, yes. The city is divided into four quadrants: northwest, northeast, southwest, and southeast. The center of that quadrant is downtown at the intersection of University Avenue and Main Street.
An easy way to remember east-west routes is to remember the word "APRIL," since the letters in that word (except "I") represents a route that runs in an east-west direction. Avenues,"A"; Place, "P"; Roads, "R"; Lanes,"L". Routes running north south are Streets, Ways, Drives, and Terraces (SWDT).
FACTOID: The International Student Services office at the University of Florida has done a nice job of explaining this at http://www.ufic.ufl.edu/iss/handbook/gainesville.htm . Check it out!
MY FIRST WEEKEND HERE
Q: What could I do my first weekend here to give me a taste of Gainesville?
A: That’s going to take more than one weekend. Gainesville is an educational, retail, service and business hot spot in a relatively low-population region known as North Central Florida. The engine that drives this community’s economy, its culture and its spirit is the University of Florida. So drive or bike over to campus this weekend and spend some time walking around: see Lake Alice, Century Tower, the O’Connell Center, Shands Hospital. The next day, take a trip outside Gainesville, maybe the town of High Springs, where you can rent a canoe and float down the Santa Fe River. And don’t forget the Harn Museum of Art, the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, the Florida Museum of Natural History, Crescent Beach and Cedar Key.
At some point, you’ll be driving on SW 34th Street along the south side of the UF campus and mutter something like, “What the hey?” Keep your eyes on the road and, if you must, park and walk back for a longer look. Known as The Wall, it’s the much-discussed, but pretty much accepted ground zero of graffiti in Gainesville. All rites of passage seemingly are celebrated in paint here.
All of this is but a part of the taste of Gainesville. And like we said, it will take longer than a weekend, a lot longer, to sample it all.
FACTOID: Tom Petty, a 2002 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was born Oct. 20, 1950 in Gainesville and grew up here. Bonus for reading this far: Ellas McDaniel, aka Bo Diddley, also a Hall of Famer, was born in Mississippi on Dec. 30, 1928. He lives in Gainesville.
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