In address, Lowe sees big things for city
Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 9:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 9:20 p.m.
Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe gave his second State of the City address Tuesday, recapping what he saw as a successful 2011, pushing to continue developing downtown to lure businesses — and jobs — to grow the city's "innovation economy" and reaffirming his commitment to expanding the city's bus system.
Speaking before a packed cinema room at the Hippodrome Theatre, Lowe said the city has weathered the economic crisis relatively well and is poised to become a hub for startup companies.
"We are leveraging the unique quality of life in our community to gain a competitive edge in the 21st century," he said in his 23-minute speech. "Already we are moving forward — forward with renewable energy, forward with mass transit and forward with an innovation economy."
He said Gainesville is competing with a number of places around the country for "high-tech, high-paying jobs" and can use "what sets us apart" to the city's advantage — the University of Florida, a "thriving arts community," a diverse population and being "home to unique ecosystems and species."
Lowe said the City Commission was able to get through a difficult budget cycle, turning a shortfall into a surplus, over the summer and touted the commission's 6-1 vote in August to expand ecosystem protection.
"We made a responsible choice, a choice which recognizes the ecological and economic advantages of conservation," he said of the measure, which gave the city the authority to protect up to 25 percent of property considered environmentally significant, bringing its policy in line with the county's. "Let me emphasize that the city of Gainesville should not be a regulatory haven where annexation provides a loophole that permits destruction of key components of our natural heritage."
"We do not have to choose between a healthy environment and a strong economy," he added.
He said he was committed to seeing bus rapid transit become a reality for the Regional Transit System, providing a quicker link between east and west Gainesville.
He said all residents in Gainesville "can have, must have and will have access to high-quality transit options," thanking U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and Sen. Bill Nelson for helping to get the city a $9 million federal grant last year to go toward the construction of a new bus maintenance facility that will make bus rapid transit feasible.
The address came a week before voters go to the polls to pick two commissioners to replace the term-limited Scherwin Henry and Jeanna Mastrodicasa, whom Lowe thanked for their six years in office. He did not discuss the pending elections.
Lowe recently signed up to run for his own re-election in 2013, but when asked at a news conference after the speech about his candidacy, he said, "I don't really see this as a campaign event."
The mayor said he was committed to continuing the revitalization of downtown, saying that is where new companies want to be.
Asked about building up downtown while the east side — where one of the few grocery stores, Food Lion on Hawthorne Road, will be closing — continues to lag behind, Lowe said he had concerns about the "gap" in that area.
"It's definitely an issue that we're going to have to address," he said.
In his speech, Lowe quoted President Barack Obama, who spoke in Kansas recently about the innovation economy and gave a speech of his own on Tuesday night, issuing his State of the Union.
"He said that ‘things that have always been our strengths match up perfectly with the demands of the moment.' I absolutely agree, and this sentiment perfectly describes Gainesville," Lowe said. "It is our moment."
Contact Chad Smith at 338-3104 or email@example.com.
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