Plan to relocate fire station concerns arts community on South Main


Gainesville Fire Rescue Engine Tower One leaves station one, located at S. Main Street and SE 4th Place on Friday.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, January 18, 2013 at 5:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 18, 2013 at 5:22 p.m.

Over the last few years, a long-rundown stretch of South Main Street has seen a revival as an emerging arts district.

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Gainesville Fire Rescue Engine Tower One leaves station one, located at S. Main Street and SE 4th Place on Friday.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun

The Civic Media Center, the Citizens Co-op food market and an array of art studios and galleries have moved into storefronts and abandoned church and garage buildings. Wild Iris Books has plans to relocate here and join the burgeoning arts and activism scene.

But this growing, tight-knit community of artists and sustainability activists has concerns that city government may break their momentum. Those concerns revolve around plans to vacate the roughly 50-year-old fire station at the north end of this stretch of road and potentially relocate to a new, larger station at the south end.

Fire Chief Gene Prince said the department needs a larger space to serve the growth of the next 50 years in the downtown area and has found property owners who are “willing” sellers. He expects construction on a new station to start in late 2014.

The lots that the city is in talks to purchase stretch from Main Street to Southeast First Street and Southeast Fifth Avenue to Southeast Sixth Avenue.

They include the parking lot for the Co-op, the Civic Media Center, the Sequential Artists Workshop, Display art gallery and several other tenants as well as the buildings that house the Repurpose Project, an arts center and trash-to-treasure shop, and the Church of Holy Colors, an arts and music studio located in a former church building.

This week, members of the South Main community brought to the City Commission their concerns over the impact of losing some members of their arts district and losing a needed parking area.

“Without much money or support but with a lot of sweat, we have worked together to really build up a great change in that area of town,” Joe Courter, the co-founder of the Civic Media Center, told city commissioners Thursday.

Mike Myers, co-founder of the Repurpose Project, said it has barely been a year since he signed a five-year lease. Now, he expects he has about 20 months to relocate if the city completes the purchase of the land.

Housed in a late-1920s ceramic block building, the Repurpose Project sells art, jewelry and other items made from material that otherwise would have ended up in a landfill.

Walking around the building, Myers showed pairs of earrings made of poker chips, golf tees or computer wire, a reusable shopping bag made of discarded plastic bags and bracelets made of silverware and toothbrushes.

Myers said he has secured a city Community Redevelopment Agency grant to improve the building’s facade and had plans to keep his nonprofit organization in that location for the long haul. But he said he understands that the city needs land for the fire station and the property owner “has all the rights in the world to make money on his investment.”

“There’s no animosity,” Myers said. “We understand everything that’s going on. We’re just kind of caught. We just got up and running.”

Stirring a bucket of dye on the deck outside the Church of Holy Colors, co-founder Evan Galbicka spoke of how the arts community revitalized this area.

“By them moving into this space, they definitely disrupt a growing, creative community start up,” he said of the fire station relocation. “They definitely disrupt the community that has been coming together in this South Main district. It’s basically a creative and sustainable community movement that is coming together here.”

At Thursday’s meeting, city commissioners spoke of working to balance the concerns with the need for a new, larger fire station.

“I love what’s happened on that stretch of South Main,” Commissioner Thomas Hawkins said. “It’s cool. It’s organic. It happened naturally. We’ve done a lot of good stuff down there in terms of enhancing Main Street and putting in the park, working on Depot Park.

“But the cool stuff has nothing to do with the city,” Hawkins continued. “And I don’t think we want to destroy the good things we’re doing in public works and community redevelopment with something bad through property relocation of the fire station.”

City Manager Russ Blackburn noted the city has signed no contract to purchase the lots in question. City officials discussed the possibility of using the current fire station property for parking and the possibility of additional on-street parking.

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