City wants to measure private interest in downtown lot


Published: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 4:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 4:16 p.m.

The City Commission wants to measure private interest in the development of an often sparsely used city-owned parking lot downtown.

But, in a shift of direction from the last round of talks on Lot 10, commissioners do not want to limit the discussion to a possible hotel-conference center.

That was the outcome of a 6-0 vote at Monday's Community Redevelopment Agency meeting. Mayor Ed Braddy was absent. Since city general government owns the lot instead of the CRA, the final vote to look for private sector interest will come at a future commission meeting.

The parking lot in question is bounded by Southwest Second Street to the west, Southwest First Street to the east, Southwest First Avenue to the north and Southwest Second Avenue to the south.

Several years back, it was the planned site of Gainesville Greens,a proposed condominium development that never came to pass in the economic downturn.

Commissioners then turned their focus toward a potential hotel-conference center after a consultant said the area lacked a facility large enough to draw in big conferences.

The city once sought tourism development tax funds for that plan, but the County Commission denied the application.

Last year, two firms responded to a city invitation to negotiate on a hotel/conference center: Michigan-based Acquest Realty Advisors and a Savannah, Ga.-based limited liability corporation known as Gainesville Hotel & Conference Center.

Each sought a substantial incentive package from the city. The City Commission ended that process in December.

Subsequently, representatives for the Savannah-based group, including former city and county commissioner Rodney Long, who is a contracted consultant, approached commissioners publicly and privately, urging them to reconsider.

Monday, commissioners noted that a large convention center is also in consideration for the area behind the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center on Southwest 34th Street. Commissioner Lauren Poe said that meant two competing proposals.

“One's going to get financed and the other is not,” Poe said.

At this point, the city wanted to look more broadly at the potential development of the lot. The potential lease or sale of the land both were options. Commissioner Susan Bottcher, who serves as chair of the CRA, said that, with 58 percent of the land in the city off the tax rolls, the sale of the lot might be the best option for city coffers.

“I don't think the city of Gainesville is in a position to be giving things away anymore,” she said.

Because the land is within a community redevelopment district, any planned development would be eligible to apply for incentives in the form of a property tax rebate.

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