CRA seeks to narrow its focus


Published: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 5:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 5:59 p.m.

The long-discussed, unrealized redevelopment of two former subsidized housing properties is among the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency's slimmed down set of priorities.

Beginning with the upcoming budget year, CRA staff intends to focus more narrowly on projects and initiatives that spur economic development and have ripple effects in the city's four community redevelopment districts.

Those include the redevelopment of the Seminary Lane property in the Fifth Avenue/Pleasant Street district and the Kennedy Homes site in the Eastside district.

The six-acre Seminary Lane property off Northwest Fifth Avenue and Northwest 12th Street has stood fallow since the subsidized apartment complex was razed in 2009.

The property's owner, Gainesville, Florida Housing Corporation, and the Gainesville Housing Authority for years eyed a mixed-use development that included an affordable housing component.

To this point, those plans have not progressed. Now, the CRA will take the lead in an attempt to draw in private investment and get redevelopment moving. While details on the plans for the property still must be worked out, the 2014 CRA budget sets aside an initial amount of $89,176 for Seminary Lane.

CRA Director Anthony Lyons said six developable acres located in the heart of the city and in close proximity to the University of Florida campus should draw interest and be a catalyst for additional redevelopment in the Fifth Avenue area.

The city also has the option of purchasing the Seminary Lane property, and the CRA expects to add the Mom's Kitchen site, which is located a short distance to the east along Northwest Fifth Avenue, to the redevelopment plans.

In 2009, the City Commission approved the controversial $165,000 purchase of that closed restaurant and property in a 4-3 vote. The property has since stood boarded and unused and has been deemed unsafe by city building inspectors.

The talk of redeveloping the Kennedy Homes site dates back longer than Seminary Lane. The city purchased the property in 2007 and razed the buildings. After years of planning, redevelopment has yet to advance. Now, the CRA is making the Kennedy Homes site and redevelopment of the area of the Hawthorne Road corridor adjacent to the Gainesville Technology Enterprise Center priorities for the Eastside district.

“We need to push those over the goal line,” Lyons said.

The 2014 budget includes about $212,000 for the GTEC area and about $70,600 for Kennedy Homes. That will push the funding for each project to more than $369,000.

Commissioner Yvonne Hinson-Rawls, who has criticized the lack of progress in the Eastside district, said it is a potentially encouraging sign to see the Hawthorne Road corridor, including the area around GTEC, and the Kennedy Homes site listed as priorities.

“Hopefully, they are going to give more time, persistence and attention to the projects that are not moving forward fast enough,” Hinson-Rawls said.

At the Sept. 16 CRA meeting, city commissioners narrowly voted down an Eastside project in the works for years -- a $144,000 fence along Hawthorne Road to shield the view of the barbed wire fence at the school district's bus depot. Hinson-Rawls opposed the fence because it lacked economic development impact and, to her, was not a good use of the Eastside district's limited money.

Each CRA district is funded separately by the taxes paid on the increase in property values since the date of its establishment. With more development, the Downtown and College Park/University Heights CRA districts have significantly more money for projects than the Eastside and Fifth Avenue/Pleasant Street districts.

In the budget year starting Oct.1, projected revenues are about $562,000 for the Eastside district and almost $554,800 for Fifth Avenue/Pleasant Street. By comparison, Downtown is expected to take in a little less than $2 million and College Park/University Heights almost $3 million.

CRA priorities for the Downtown district include a planned redesign and reconstruction of the north side of the Bo Diddley Community Plaza, a project that will have about $507,000 set aside by the upcoming budget year. There is also the continued development of Depot Park, the anticipated redevelopment of the Power District and more infrastructure projects in the Porters neighborhood.

In College Park/University Heights, priority infrastructure projects include road work in the Innovation District and planned projects on South Main Street, Northwest First Avenue and Northwest Fifth Avenue.

One proposal the CRA has not deemed a priority is the possible development of a hotel and conference center downtown. Still, city commissioners say they want to revisit talk of the possibility at their October meeting.

At Monday's meeting, City Manager Russ Blackburn told commissioners that pursuit of a hotel/conference center likely would require the CRA to abandon its current priorities.

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