HomeLocal governmentCity commission moves forward with multi-use complex at 8th Avenue and Waldo Road
City commission moves forward with multi-use complex at 8th Avenue and Waldo Road
May 4, 2022
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
At the April 28 General Policy Committee meeting, Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut gave a presentation about her vision for the area around 8th Avenue and Waldo Road. She said that by reconstructing the stadium at Citizens Field and adding square footage to the MLK Center there, “the City of Gainesville and Alachua County would be the beneficiary of a positive impact.”
Chestnut said east Gainesville needs the following:
A comprehensive year-long recreational calendar;
A sports complex that can be used by residents during the week and tournaments on the weekend;
A senior citizens’ center;
A multi-use athletic facility;
Other uses such as walking trails, farmers’ markets, and outdoor basketball courts.
Citizens Field “has held up well” but needs improvements
The Citizens Field stadium is 60 years old, Chestnut said, “and she has held up well… but it is now time for installation of new bleachers to accommodate a new track and additional capacity.” She also said that turf improvements, locker rooms, a press box, ticket booths at both ends, digital scoreboards, and concession stands are needed. She said that funds could be raised via naming opportunities.
Her vision for the MLK center includes two high school basketball courts, a wing for senior programming, a wing for activities, community meeting rooms, an area for arts and crafts, and a “new and improved” fitness center.
Outdoors, she said she would like to see four basketball courts, volleyball courts, and soccer fields, as well as connecting the pool to the MLK building. She envisioned a “relaxation area for families with small children, playground, farmers’ markets, a designated hook-up for food trucks.” She said funding sources could include Wild Spaces Public Places, Gainesville Community Reinvestment Area (GCRA) funds, public-private partnerships, and naming opportunities.
She said it’s important to have amenities nearby for the people attending events at the center, including hotels, sports equipment shops, restaurants, etc. She said an East Gainesville complex would primarily be a community facility, with tournaments on weekends. The venue would not compete with the indoor sports venue at Celebration Pointe but would focus on outdoor events.
She made a motion to direct staff to include the East Side Sports Complex on the 2022 Wild Spaces Public Places list, along with funding from GCRA; direct staff to secure a consultant to explore the project’s scope, needs, and facilities and provide a cost estimate for a multi-use sports complex at 8th Avenue and Waldo Road with “the requisite amenities as well as parking”; ask Representative Yvonne Hinson to schedule meetings with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to discuss and implement traffic calming measures on the Waldo Road corridor from 16th Avenue to 8th Avenue and other stretches as deemed necessary; ask Rep. Hinson and the local legislative delegation to request a special project appropriation to fund the measures; and involve community members in outreach and community engagement efforts.
“I’m liking everything I’m hearing”
Commissioner Harvey Ward said he was excited about the opportunity, particularly improving the stadium at Citizens Field. He said he had invited all the school board members and school board candidates to meet with him about Citizens Field, so “I wonder if we could explicitly say we will work with the Alachua County Public Schools for that piece of the complex.”
He said he’d been talking to parents who “are really tired of driving to Jonesville, and that’s economic opportunity… When parents come for the day for a soccer tournament or even for practice on Saturday mornings, they are there for a long time, and they are willing to spend money for lunch, for whatever it is. We have a large set of fields that are used for soccer to some degree now, but I would like to see us very intentionally get those fields in a condition where they are ready for tournament play… that includes adding some small grandstands, whatever it would take… The consultant could add that to the study.”
Commissioner Reina Saco was concerned about traffic from large events and the effect of that traffic on the residential neighborhoods adjoining the complex. She said she was in favor of enhancing their facilities, but “I don’t think everything has to be in the same site.” She said that if they develop facilities in multiple areas, that brings opportunities to those areas while not disrupting a single area with traffic. She favored having another discussion in May to narrow the scope for the consultant. She concluded, “I agree we need to do something… but I want us to be deliberate. Wherever the money comes from, it’s not going to be cheap. It’s not going to be fast either way, no matter how quickly we decide things.”
Mayor Lauren Poe said his “guiding principles” are “that it adds value to the adjacent and extended community and… that it’s a catalyst for economic development in that part of our city. I think if we can find a scope of project that does those two things, then it will be a generational change for that part of our city, which is needed… We know we have got to invest some serious resources into Citizens Field. There’s no question about that. We know we have got to do something about our GFR administration and training facilities [near Citizens Field]. There’s no question about that. We know we have to address the fire station there. We know that we have a large amount of space at those fields that is not being optimized right now… So I’m liking everything I’m hearing. You know, I think that it’s all doable.” He said he preferred to leave the identification of funding sources to staff and favored bringing the issue back at the May 19 meeting to hammer out a request for proposal (RFP). He proposed amending the motion with the request to bring it back at the May 19 meeting with a framework for an RFP, and that was seconded.
Public comment was mixed
Citizens who spoke had various points of view. Some were concerned about losing playground space during the demolition/construction phase of any new facility. Rodney Long said he had worked on Plan East Gainesville, and “we just want you to do something… Whatever you do, you need to do something to Citizens Field… The ideal thing would be for the School Board to build school facilities [at the individual high schools]… There’s property on those schools.”
Julius Long said a new facility could host smaller professional sports teams and concerts and that it would lead to economic growth and a sense of pride for people who live on the east side of Gainesville. Ed Jennings said this is a unique time, with GCRA money, American Rescue Plan Act funds, and Wild Spaces Public Places: “Now is East Gainesville’s time.” He also wanted to make sure the Cultural Arts Center was also on commissioners’ list.
A father and son spoke about a proposed public-private partnership they’re working on to put an ice rink in the area for figure skating, ice hockey, and curling. Poe responded, “You had me at curling. I’ve got the bug. And… I know all of us were a little envious when Ocala produced an Olympic speed skater… I don’t like being behind Ocala.”
Jo Beaty said the City needs “to get back to basics” at a time when the City has received reports of financial irregularities. She said something like this is “wonderful in good times… but people… need their GRU bills to be affordable… You haven’t met an expense you don’t want to spend.”
Faye Williams was against doing the project at 8th Avenue and Waldo Road because of traffic and the history of the Martin Luther King Center. She said those facilities should be renovated, not demolished, and that housing should be the commission’s priority.
Melvin Flournoy said the “rich kids have the west side of town. They have Jonesville, they have Celebration Pointe. What do we give these kids on the east side?… My wish is that you would move forward with this plan.”
Motion changed to bring back a framework on May 19, not hire a consultant right away
After public comment, Saco said she’d heard people say that they want the City government to focus on “one singular thing at a time. I think everyone up here desperately wishes we had the privilege and leisure of focusing on one single thing at a time. But we can’t… Especially a city like us, with so many core services that we control. While there may be questions about our foundation and how we’re fixing some of those, those are being fixed… There needs to be housing. We have folks working on that… We need to have better jobs… We have folks working on that… This will bring a lot of good jobs… which help people pay for housing and their GRU bills.”
Commissioner David Arreola asked to add to the motion that they ask FDOT to add traffic calming elements to the intersection of East University Avenue and Waldo Road.
Chestnut went back through the motion: 1) Direct staff to secure a consultant to explore the project scope and provide a cost estimate; 2) Ask Rep. Hinson to bring this to FDOT, with expansion to East University Avenue as proposed by Arreola; 3) Involve the community in engagement efforts, including the School Board.
Interim City Manager Cynthia Curry asked for clarification about whether she was supposed to hire a consultant before the May 19 meeting, and Poe said, “No, no, no, no, no… A sort of framework for the RFP so we know what is going out and what deliverables will come back.”
Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said the only parts of the motion he could support were bringing this back on May 19 and adding traffic calming on the Waldo Road corridor, so he asked to split out those parts of the motion. But after Poe confirmed that the motion didn’t instruct staff to hire a consultant prior to the May 19 meeting, but just to come back with a framework for the RFP, Hayes-Santos said, “I’m good.”
The vote in favor of the motion was unanimous.
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