Let's go downtown!
Published: Friday, March 29, 2013 at 3:11 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 29, 2013 at 3:11 p.m.
I was thoroughly attached to Boulder, Colorado — as we so often become to our college towns — so when, for reasons left to the mists of time, I said goodbye and moved to Gainesville, there were many things I dearly missed.
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Friends, of course. The way the cool, dry air convinced my unruly mane to stay, for the first time ever, shiny and straight. And the view of the craggy Flatirons, which seemed to bond the town with a common, dreamy focal point. For months after moving here I'd squint at the clouds, hoping to will them into a landscape of mountains and valleys.
Never mind that I was a flatlander from Miami Beach — I was homesick for my adopted mountain town in the West.
Soon I grew to appreciate the greenness of Gainesville and its comfortable Florida familiarity, its nearness to springs and coasts. But there was something that continued to nag: The fading of Gainesville's downtown.
Around the time I left Boulder more than 30 years ago, the Pearl Street Mall had debuted. Closing a roadway to cars had instantly transformed a nothing-to-write-home-about town center into a greenscaped hub of restaurants, shops, entertainment and families. And I just couldn't help comparing that lively pedestrian mecca with what was happening here.
Downtown Gainesville appeared to be emptying, as mainstay businesses and restaurants drifted away toward the westward growth or simply shut their doors.
Fast forward to 2013, and the lights are on again in the center of the city. In our cover story this issue, we tell the story of a Gainesville downtown “revolution.” Hyperbole, perhaps — as you'll see, this has been a slow transformation fueled by brick-by-brick tenaciousness rather than a lightning strike. And of course, as with every movement forward, there are obstacles and setbacks.
But if you haven't been downtown lately, you may be struck by what you see — young entrepreneurs, restaurateurs, longtime investors and dog-walking residents creating an energy that you can't miss. If you're used to thinking downtown's evenings are turned over to club-hopping college students, you'll be surprised by the ages of those drawn downtown by everything from the monthly Artwalk to the free Friday night concerts.
Starting on page 36, we offer you a look at the past, present and future of the downtown district, complete with its once and future challenges. You'll meet some of the “true believers” who have been making steady, if slow, progress for years, and the young bloods who are striking up their careers in tech spaces above restaurants and shops — and building a lasting camaraderie as they do it.
We'll be revisiting downtown in issues to come, so we'd love to hear your impressions and memories.
As Gainesville evolves, so should, we believe, our magazine. We began our 10th anniversary year in February by introducing several new features, from “Generation Next” to “Home at Last.” In this issue, we're doing a little more “remodeling and expanding,” in this case, creating “Around the Table,” a new section devoted to our continuing interest in good food, with a greater emphasis on living healthfully and sustainably.
This new section features “Culinary Gainesville,” where we profile top home cooks and professional chefs and their best recipes; “Homegrown,” by our noted local food columnist, Stefanie Samara Hamblen, who will continue to teach us to prepare the best of what's in season locally; and finally, our new “What's Cooking” events calendar, a guide to upcoming gardening events, cooking classes and demonstrations, special dinners, and anything else of interest to those who care about good food and sustainable living.
As always, we count on and value your feedback and ideas. E-mail us about what you like, what can be improved, and stories you'd like to see.
We thank you, as always, for making Gainesville — our city and our magazine — the best that it can be
And we wish you a green and glorious spring.