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Scherwin Henry: Running to move Gainesville forward

Scherwin Henry, candidate for Gainesville City Commission At Large Seat 2

OPINION

[Editor’s note: All candidates are welcome to submit statements for publication.]

BY SCHERWIN HENRY

In the next decade, the City of Gainesville will undergo significant change.  This change will involve creating opportunity for individuals and families in the areas of employment, housing, small- and medium-size business development, growth, and expansion. For too long, the City of Gainesville has relied on and based our economy on the University of Florida, Santa Fe College, Shands (now UF Health), and related state and local governmental agencies.

The question I put forth is: who or what is the city of Gainesville, Florida?  First of all, we are a city that has over 50% of its taxable property off the tax roll because of the number of federal, state, and county agencies located within our city boundaries. Secondly, we are a city that has not been as creative over the decades in growing our economy. In my opinion, the factors contributing to this are the building of I-75 and basing our economic fortunes for many years on the growth and expansion of the University of Florida. That growth and expansion has been great for the surrounding communities adjacent to the university and the western part of our city.  Other communities of our city have not been as fortunate.

With the migration west, our downtown and the easterly-located communities have suffered greatly from a lack of timely and frequent public transportation, adequate and quality housing, and definitely a lack of economic investment.

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Much energy and conversation has been devoted to the growth that has happened in western Gainesville. I challenge City leaders to reverse the conversation and devote that same energy to invest in our downtown and the eastern part of our city. To me, Gainesville is a city of missed opportunity.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Downtown

As I stated, Gainesville is a city of missed opportunity. It is a must that we invest in the redevelopment of our downtown. We, as a city, have invested millions of dollars in areas surrounding our downtown, such as Depot Park and the recent South Main Street project. More recently, we now have the Cade Museum located adjacent to Depot Park. Our downtown was once a thriving retail, restaurant, governmental, and business entity. Data shows that a city that has an energetic, active, thriving, dense, walkable, livable, and family-friendly downtown represents a healthy city. There is no reason Gainesville cannot recapture some of the elements from the past that made our downtown the centerpiece of our city. My vision for downtown would be to invest in our downtown by retaining some of the historic character that would be inviting to families and visitors alike. We would need to have quality retail opportunity downtown. If possible, we might need to build a multi-level structure that would house not only retail but restaurants, offices, entertainment options such as a 2- or 3-screen movie theatre, a combination bowling alley/gaming complex, and some level of residential housing. There will also be a need for a grocery. We still have a need to build a second hotel downtown. 

East Gainesville 

East Gainesville is where I was born and raised. It has always been the forgotten community of our city. It is one of the most beautiful communities in our city. There are many misconceptions about the community referred to as east Gainesville. Let me state emphatically that not all of the residents who live in east Gainesville are poor. This community is another one of the City of Gainesville’s missed opportunities. The economic disenfranchisement has resulted because of years of non-representation and poor policy-making decisions. The residents of east Gainesville have not received the return for their tax dollar. 

Many opportunities exist to bring economic investment to east Gainesville.  The recent Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) was reorganized by combining all of the districts. The City of Gainesville and Alachua County contributed a total of 70 million dollars to reinvest in our economically disenfranchised areas.  

The opportunity for economic investment exists along the Waldo Road and E. University and Hawthorne Road corridors. There is great opportunity for business development at the GTEC site. GTEC, located on Hawthorne Road, has undergone a revision and has been renamed Cornerstone. There is also the former Crevasse’s Florist property, which is owned by Shands UF Health and would make for a great partnership with the new GCRA. The area surrounding the intersection of NE 8th Avenue and Waldo Road is an ideal area for transformative development, for which some of the GCRA dollars can be utilized. The question I ask is “Why hasn’t the east Gainesville community seen significant economic development around the Gainesville Regional Airport area?” If our airport was located anywhere else in our city, I firmly believe a different approach would have been taken. Four redevelopment plans have been formulated for the eastern community of the city of Gainesville. I recommend taking the best attributes of those plans to better the economic fortunes of east Gainesville.

Governing Philosophy 

The question has been asked of me: “How will I be different if elected to the Gainesville City Commission?” “Will I go along with and just vote as the current members have voted?”  “Why will you be different?”

First of all, I will begin by saying my decision-making process comes from a greatly different set of life experiences and thought processes than the current Gainesville City Commissioners. I understand my goal is to serve the people of our city and to not be self-serving. I am also used to dealing in realities. The reality is our city has been in a state of false security. For decades, our image of who we are as a city and our economic fortunes have been tied to federal, state, and local government, the University of Florida, Santa Fe College, and other state facilities that occupy our region. With that being said, we have been unimaginative in growing our economy. Because of the false sense of economic security and lack of imagination, we have become a city of the “haves and the have-nots.” It seems our current government gravitates to dealing with what are referred to as the low-hanging fruit. There are issues we must make decisions about for the good of the future of our city.

One of the issues I’ve discussed during this campaign is that we must take a hard look at the budgets of both GRU and general government. Somehow budget cuts must be made with general government and with GRU’s budget. The first step to take would be to look at what inefficiencies or duplication of services exist. Secondly, some adjustments might have to be made concerning the General Fund Transfer. 

Other issues we are facing are solving the homelessness situation our city is facing, how to provide more affordable housing, and creating opportunities for families and individuals to earn a decent wage. In solving our homelessness situation, I propose creating a homelessness council made up of various partners from the community, i.e., the Veterans Administration, social services, mental health, housing, workforce training, and members of the homeless community themselves. It seems to me that members of the community who are not homeless are attempting to solve a problem we know very little about. That’s why it is important to have the participation of the homeless community, so they can share their ideas as to what they suggest to solve this problem. To provide more housing, I suggest the creation of a housing trust. This will be a public/private venture that could be a complementary funding source to build more workforce/affordable housing. Contributions to the housing trust would be tax-deductible.

 I am different because I’m not afraid to make the hard decisions. History shows that when we were considering assessing the “fire assessment fee,” I was not afraid to meet and speak to the public as to why this initiative was important to the health of our City and our fire department.

When the Gainesville City Commission debated selling Ironwood Golf course, I fought as the District 1 Gainesville City Commissioner to keep Ironwood as an asset. At the time, it was not making money, but it was one of the strongest assets of the east Gainesville community. Instead of selling it, we came up with a plan to make the necessary upgrades to make it profitable. 

Similarly, when the Gainesville City Commission debated closing the T.B. McPherson recreational center and Mickle Pool, I led the charge to keep it open and worked with the surrounding community to become involved in the planning of making it sustainable for the future.

To me, being a Gainesville City Commissioner is all about putting the people first.  It involves making policy that will benefit the majority, if not all of the residents, not a select few.  

Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you. 

Scherwin Henry is running for Gainesville City Commission At Large Seat 2.