Residents pack City Hall to discuss the future of the Power District

Andrew Persons speaks to the March 28 Gainesville City Commission Workshop – Alachua Chronicle


GAINESVILLE, Fla. – City Hall was packed on March 28 for a Gainesville City Commission workshop to discuss the future of the Power District. At the meeting, commissioners listened to ideas from the public and requested information from staff, with the goal of having the next discussion at the June 8 General Policy Committee meeting.

Mayor Harvey Ward said he hoped the workshop would help the City Commission start to put together a vision for the area. He said the City no longer has “the luxury of letting it sit there any longer.” He said he hoped the workshop would lead to a timeline and that the City would be “actually doing things” with the property by this time next year.

City Manager Cynthia Curry said the property falls within the boundaries of the Gainesville Community Reinvestment Area, and about $450,000 is budgeted for the Power District. She later added that all of the properties are technically owned and titled to the City of Gainesville, but GRU manages them, and GRU funds purchased them.

The site originally included three parcels, but five more parcels were added in 2019, for a total of 27.25 acres. The buildings are in various states of repair; some are usable, some need significant work, and others are not usable and need to be demolished. The buildings have not been used or maintained in ten years.

Slides from the staff presentation at the March 28 meeting

History of the redevelopment efforts

The City issued an Invitation to Negotiate in 2016 for proposals to purchase and redevelop the various properties in a manner responsive to the existing 2013 Power District Redevelopment Plan, but the effort was not successful. 

Staff told the commission at the March 28 meeting that they recommend maximizing the sale proceeds of the property, recognizing the environmental liability of the site, and seeking opportunities for economic development of the site. Andrew Persons, Special Advisor to the City Manager, said staff has always recommended selling the properties. 

Commissioner Reina Saco said that although they couldn’t make motions or take votes in the workshop, she wanted staff to update the appraisals and environmental assessments of the properties.

The land in question belongs to Gainesville Regional Utilities, so commissioners were concerned about whether they would have any control over the disposition of the parcels if Rep. Chuck Clemons’ local bill succeeds in changing GRU’s governing body to a board appointed by the governor.

Ward said that the top priority should be maximizing the public benefit. In addition to updated appraisals, Ward asked staff to bring back information on the costs of bringing some of the buildings up to a usable condition.

Several commissioners also supported having a City easement along the creek that flows through the area.

“A gem for the community”

During public comment, a number of people expressed concerns about tall buildings in the area and advocated for setting aside some of the land as open space. Randy Batista argued that the City could make it a “gem for the community.” Michael Blachly, former Director of the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, encouraged the commission to create “a sense of destination” by populating the district with performing arts venues, artist studios, rehearsal space, dance studios, and other spaces that support the arts. 

Following public comment, Commissioner Ed Book said he would like more information about whether they can split the parcels and what they might need to do in terms of rezoning. He also wanted to make sure the City understands the contamination issues and the funding available to remediate those issues and wanted to get more community input.

Commissioner Casey Willits said it’s important to make these properties into “taxable revenue-generating property” because the City has so much land off the tax rolls and will need the revenue in the absence of the large General Fund Transfers from GRU. He said, “I think that’s my number one goal after what the legislature told us. Before that, it wouldn’t have been my number one goal. It would have been housing people close to where they work and live and play, and where they can jump on a trail and they can ride a bike… We have deadlines coming up early this fall about our budget, about GRU, and somewhere, somehow, there have to be revenues raised or a lot of cuts somewhere else.”

Saco said she also supported making the parcels taxable because that allows those revenues to benefit everyone in the city instead of having “a very exclusive jewel” that benefits people who live within walking distance of the district. She was also concerned about people who live near the area in older homes, adding that one of her priorities is making sure “some land remains accessible for potentially displaced or displaceable neighbors.”

Ward agreed that the commission must consider that land values around any of their projects are likely to increase, whether it’s the Power District or 8th & Waldo, “if we don’t find a way to mitigate those prices going up.” He asked staff to bring back information at the June 8 General Policy Committee meeting on the various requests from commissioners. He said he doesn’t plan a “Power District Meeting” but rather a “series of conversations.”

Ward closed the meeting by asking everyone to “please keep your wheels turning; talk to the commissioners individually. We want a great outcome from this, and the only way we’ll do that is if we raise the level of conversation so that it’s not possible to just put it off to the side.”

  • If GRU funds bought the land then sell it put the money towards paying down the GUR debt
    It’s clearly shown that these idiots who run Gainesville have no clue what they doing. Will be so glad when the state takes over GRU you and manages it right

    • Yeo, these ignorants still don’t get it! 1/2 million left they think to spend. Nope, right back in the GRU debt kitty tomorrow! Then slash and burn selling it all. Get it on the tax rolls to someone. They’ve yet to make one significant cut. Good really, keep eating Ward! Your last days are upon you! In 6 months appointed folks who actually have experience will take over. Keep playing house!

  • Do something with what money? Part out what you can, sell for scrap and recycle the rest. In a budget crisis the city is actually thinking of throwing money at this?? IMHO the only way the city could make any money is to demolish it all, then sell the land to our investor friends to shack up cheap OSB apartments renting for $2,400/mo that the bricks fall off of.

  • Mayor Harvey Ward said, “he hoped the workshop would help the City Commission start to put together a vision for the area.”
    This idiot has been in city government for how long and he still doesn’t have a vision? Take off the glasses, lose about 200 lbs and he’s another Joe. He needs to take off the progressive liberal blinders.

    They are clearly in damage control mode and hoping to stave off the proposed legislation of having their control of GRU being taken away.

  • These “has been ” Commissioner’s would be better to leave their mindless LaLa Land and focus on reality and what it will require to move forward and provide basic services like Law and Order without the Gru Kickback , that is gone,gone,gone.

  • What will the Equity Toolkit tell them to do? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. That’s how mindless some of them are.

  • The city is in no position to be picky. The fact it’s taken so long — now with high construction and loan rates — is due to only 3% of the residents electing city leaders, extremism delays for years. Now the chickens come home to roost, and you’ll get what your most feared would happen.
    Maybe try representing the common sense of the majority, for a change?

  • Key takeaways from the convening of idiots…

    Ward said the City no longer has “the luxury of letting it sit there any longer.” Why not? He’s gotten so used to sitting on his ass for so long why change now.

    Curry added “that all of the properties are technically owned and titled to the City of Gainesville, but GRU manages them, and GRU funds purchased them.” If GRU is owned by the community doesn’t that mean the community owns them?

    Andrew Persons, Special Advisor to the City Manager, said staff has always recommended selling the properties. No surprise here…the Commission has rarely if ever, done anything staff recommends.

    Commissioner Casey Willits said it’s important to make these properties into “taxable revenue-generating property” because the City has so much land off the tax rolls. He just woke up in time for the meeting and realized what many have known for a LONG time.

    Ward closed the meeting by asking everyone to “please keep your wheels turning.” The wheels have been turning but under current leadership, they’ve run the train off the tracks. It’s time for the state to do the cleanup.

    P.S. Saco, as usual, had nothing of use to say.

  • CLAY ELECTRIC kWH IS DOWN 11%!! Explain that GRU? The City commissions pet projects are costing “Neigbors” rates to go up. You can cut 1 million dollars in the budget by cutting funding for the failed program – Richert House Program.

  • They called it “a gem for the community”. Really? Do you know anyone with any sense who wants to locate their business near a drug & crime infested ghetto? Another city commission boondoggle for us to fund. Arghhh!

  • Give the radical success of Depot Park – together with the work on S Main St – and it’s positive effect on neighboring properties, the continuation of that success through good planning is the immediate need. This is very valuable land if that plan is done correctly, and with an almost clean slate to work with, a potential economic windfall for the city, and true asset for it’s citizens. Whether Depot Park was a genius vision or blind luck – probably the former and thank you Pegeen Hanrahan – in turning a brown-field wasteland into the most used public facility in the city, that momentum should be continued, and if not, it will be almost criminal and blameworthy.

    • PS Selling the property is entirely within the possibilities to be considered, but not without that plan of use. Rarely do cities get an opportunity like this, and whether in partnership with private developers or by itself – probably don’t have that money – cannot screw this one up.

      • Better get rid of these commissioners. There’s not much they haven’t screwed up during their tenures.

    • Arguably what Hanrahan did was criminal when she orchestrated the BioMess fiasco.

      • Only after Pegeen got her wallet stolen from her office she decided that something “must be done” about the homeless idiots…

    • It’s a big free park downtown with some basic amenities. Mostly, the fact that it’s free makes it popular – combined with the fact that people have been made poor by the city’s policies. Government cheese would be really popular now, too, but I don’t think government should be complimenting itself because everyone is starving and wants their free cheese. The downtown plaza mostly served the same purpose before the city went and screwed it up in response to all the vagrants they invited in. What they did to the plaza was retarded (not genius).

  • I would be terrified about what soil samples in that area will show. And is there asbestos in those old buildings? By the time they demolish the buildings and do soil remediation, the sale of the property will be a break even proposition I’m afraid…..

  • Stay in the suburbs and enjoy the sterile corporate world of “Celebration” you guys. You don’t know what you’re talking about and wouldn’t recognize a vibrant urban area full of young, old, and many kids if you drove past it doing 45, which is your typical mode seeing anything. By the way, the downtown Plaza is a very lively fun place, especially on Friday evenings through the warm months when hundreds show up for live music. Homeless occupation of the Plaza is thankfully in the past, day and night. And yes, Pegeen was the primary mover of Depot Park, a wildly popular place for citizens.

    • I live downtown. The plaza was much better without all the anti-human features. Crane Ramen just closed; that’s like the third or fourth canary in the coal mine to die recently. Downtown is struggling at best. The area off NW 8th Ave is doing better, away from the crazy parking garage and the closed-off roads – and big buildings looming over like that new hotel. I never go to Celebration Pointe and don’t like it. I remember there used to be a busy Subway at the corner of University and Main, then Harvest Thyme Cafe for a long time. Now it’s some office. Big Lou’s, Emiliano’s, and other longtime establishments have closed. Downtown is far less vibrant than it was 10 or 20 years ago.

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