The city of Gainesville held the first of two community workshops to gain feedback on developing a multi-use sports complex in East Gainesville on Tuesday.
The workshop will be repeated from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday to accommodate those whose schedules prevented them from attending Tuesday’s meeting.
City Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut has pushed for the project since she joined the Commission in 2022, leading to the hiring of C.H. Johnson Consulting, Inc. to perform a pro forma feasibility study on Citizens Field, the MLK Multipurpose Center and the Dwight H. Hunter Pool.
Chestnut and fellow Commissioner Bryan Eastman both attended Tuesday’s workshop, and Chestnut said she was pleased with the turnout of over a hundred community members.
“All of the programs mentioned, I’m very excited,” Chestnut said. “It just got so much input from the community; I think we’re going to have a lot to build on.”
Brandon Dowling, Johnson Consulting’s principal of sports, presented some of the study’s results to the community at the workshop, explaining that expanding the MLK Center to become a “regional attraction” could benefit the local economy.
The main reason people visit Gainesville is for sports tourism, according to Johnson Consulting. The average Gainesville resident spends about $146 on entertainment and recreation each year, while visitors from 15 minutes to an hour away spend as much, if not more, at Gainesville’s facilities.
Johnson Consulting also calculated the penetration Gainesville’s sports market has, estimating that 121,706 potential sports participants ages six and up could be reached.
The consultants have created a survey, which will be open until July 19 to get broader trends of public opinion, but in the workshops, they hope to hear community members’ hopes for what the complex could include.
“What we know from our experience at the national level is it has to be what is the community’s want and desire, in order to be successful and positive,” Dowling told attendees at Tuesday’s meeting. “If it’s not something that you all want to use, it’s not going to be used.”
Community members passed a microphone around, expressing the need for more parking, more pool space for competitive swimmers, preserved green space for walking and playing, and permanent accommodations for pickleball players and roller skaters.
Several community members mentioned a desire for a senior center, which East Gainesville does not currently have. One woman, Carrie Parker-Warren, pointed out that the consultants should also be reaching out to get input from young people, making sure the next generation has a voice in the facilities they will use for years to come.
John Hulvey, head coach of the Gator Swim Club, said he first came to Gainesville in 1992, then left for some time. When he recently moved back, he said many of the facilities were the same as when he left, with only a few “band-aids” to keep immediate problems at bay.
“It all looks the same,” Hulvey said. “It definitely needs a facelift. We need to do something for the community that’s better than where it’s at.”