City commission moves forward with mixed-use complex on 8th Avenue and Waldo Road

City Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut outlines her vision for 8th Avenue and Waldo Road

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

At the April 28 Policy Committee meeting, Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut presented her vision for the area around 8th Avenue and Waldo Road. She said that by rebuilding Citizens Field and adding square footage to the MLK Center, “the city of Gainesville and Alachua County would benefit from a positive impact.”

Chestnut said East Gainesville needed the following:

  • A complete recreational calendar throughout the year;
  • A sports complex that can be used by residents on weekdays and tournaments on weekends;
  • A center for the elderly;
  • A multipurpose sports facility;
  • Other uses such as walking paths, farmers markets and outdoor basketball courts.

Citizens Field ‘has held up well’ but needs improvement

Citizens Field is 60 years old, Chestnut said, “and it’s held up well…but now is the time to install new bleachers to accommodate a new track and additional capacity.” She also said improvements to the turf, changing rooms, press box, ticket booths at both ends, digital scoreboards and concession stands are needed. She said funds could be raised through naming opportunities.

His vision for the MLK Center includes two high school basketball courts, a senior programs wing, an activities wing, community meeting rooms, an arts and crafts area, and a fitness center. “new and improved”.

Outside, she said she would like to see four basketball, volleyball and soccer courts, as well as connect the pool to the MLK building. She imagined a “relaxation area for families with young children, a playground, farmers’ markets, a designated connection point for food trucks”. She said funding sources could include Wild Spaces public spaces, Gainesville Community Reinvestment Area (GCRA) funds, public-private partnerships and naming opportunities.

She said it’s important to have nearby amenities for people attending events at the center, including hotels, sporting goods stores, restaurants, and more. She said an East Gainesville resort would be primarily a community facility, with weekend tournaments. The venue would not compete with the indoor sports venue at Celebration Pointe, but would focus on outdoor events.

She introduced a motion to direct staff to include the East Side Sports Complex on the 2022 Wild Spaces Public Places List, along with funding from the GCRA; instructing staff to find a consultant to explore the scope, needs and facilities of the project and provide a cost estimate for a multi-purpose sports complex at 8th Avenue and Waldo Road with “necessary amenities as well as parking”; directing Rep. 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 others sections deemed necessary; ask Rep. Hinson and the local legislative delegation to apply for a special project appropriation to fund the measures; and involve community members in outreach and community engagement efforts.

“I like everything I hear”

Commissioner Harvey Ward said he was excited about the opportunity, particularly the stadium upgrade at Citizens Field. He said he had invited all school board members and school board candidates to meet with him about Citizens Field, so “I wonder if we could say explicitly that we will be working with the county public schools. Alachua for this part of the complex.”

He said he’s spoken to parents who “are really tired of driving to Jonesville, and it’s an economic opportunity… When parents come over for the day for a football tournament or even for the Saturday morning training, they’re here for a long time, and they’re willing to spend money on lunch, whatever it is. We have a lot of pitches that are used for football to some extent now. , but I would like to see us very intentionally put these grounds in a state where they are ready for the tournament… this includes adding small stands, whatever it takes… The consultant could add that to the review.

Commissioner Reina Saco was concerned about traffic related to major events and the effect of this traffic on residential areas adjacent to the complex. She said she was in favor of improving their facilities, but “I don’t think everything has to be on the same site”. She said if they develop facilities in multiple areas, it provides opportunities for those areas without disrupting a single area with traffic. She was in favor of another discussion in May to reduce the scope of the consultant. She concluded: “I agree that we have to do something… but I want us to be deliberate. Wherever the money comes from, it won’t be cheap. It won’t be quick anyway, no matter how quickly we decide things.

Mayor Lauren Poe said its “guiding principles” are “that it adds value to the adjacent and extended community and…is a catalyst for economic development in this part of our city. I think if we can find a scope of project that does those two things, then it’s going to be a generational shift for that part of our city, which is needed… We know we need to put some serious resources into Citizens Field. there is no doubt. We know we need to do something about our GFR administration and training facilities [near Citizens Field]. there is no doubt. We know we have to go to the fire station. We know we have a large amount of space on these fields that is not optimized right now… So I like everything I hear. You know, I think anything is doable. He said he preferred to leave the identification of funding sources to staff and preferred to bring the issue back to the May 19 meeting to develop a request for proposals (RFP). He moved to amend the motion with the request to bring it back to the May 19 meeting with a framework for an RFP, and this was seconded.

Audience feedback was mixed

The 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 worked on Plan East Gainesville, and “we just want you to do something…Whatever you do, you have to do something for Citizens Field…Ideally the school board would build facilities school [at the individual high schools]… There is property in these schools.

Julius Long said a new facility could accommodate smaller professional sports teams and concerts and it would lead to economic growth and a sense of pride for people who live on the east side of Gainesville. Ed Jennings said it was a unique moment, with CCRA money, American Rescue Plan Act funds and Wild Spaces Public Places: “Now is the time for East Gainesville.” He also wanted to make sure that the Cultural Center for the Arts was also on the list of curators.

A father and son talked about a public-private partnership project they are working on to develop an ice rink in the area for figure skating, ice hockey and curling. Poe replied, “You had me curling. I have the bug. And…I know we were all 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 a good time…but people…need their GRU bills to be affordable…You haven’t faced an expense you don’t want spend.”

Faye Williams was against doing the project on 8th Avenue and Waldo Road due to traffic and the history of the Martin Luther King Center. She said these facilities should be renovated, not demolished, and 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 go ahead with this plan.

Amended motion to bring back an executive on May 19, not hire a consultant just yet

After a public comment, Saco said she’s heard people say they want the city government to focus on “one singular thing at a time.” I think everyone here desperately wants us to have the privilege and the leisure to focus on one thing at a time. But we can’t… Especially a city like ours, with so many basic services that we control. While there may be questions about our foundation and how we fix some of them, those are being fixed… We need housing. We have people working on this… We need to get better jobs… We have people working on this… It will bring a lot of good jobs… that will help people pay their housing and their GRU bills.

Commissioner David Arreola asked to add to the motion that they ask the FDOT to add traffic calming features at the intersection of East University Avenue and Waldo Road.

Chestnut echoed the motion: 1) Ask staff to find a consultant to explore the scope of the project and provide a cost estimate; 2) Have Rep Hinson bring it to FDOT, with an extension to East University Avenue, as proposed by Arreola; 3) Involve the community in engagement efforts, including the school board.

Acting City Manager Cynthia Curry asked for clarification on whether she was supposed to hire a consultant before the May 19 meeting, and Poe replied, “No, no, no, no, no… Some kind of framework for the RFP so we know what’s out and what deliverables will come back.

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said the only parts of the motion he could support were bringing it back on May 19 and adding traffic calming to the Waldo Road corridor, so he asked to split those parts of the motion. But after Poe confirmed that the motion did not direct staff to hire a consultant before the May 19 meeting, but just to come back with a framework for the request for proposals, Hayes-Santos said: “I’m fine. .”

The vote in favor of the motion was unanimous.