Gainesville to revitalize downtown power district 

Gainesville Regional Utilities' John R. Kelly Generating Station.
Gainesville Regional Utilities' John R. Kelly Generating Station.
Photo by Seth Johnson

The Gainesville City Commission will try to revive plans to revitalize downtown’s power district following a workshop on Tuesday.  

Mayor Harvey Ward said the workshop represents the first step in a long process, and he hopes to have on-the-ground action at the district by the second quarter of 2024.  

“We don’t have the luxury of letting it sit there anymore in my opinion,” Ward said. 

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Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) owns the district, a collection of buildings and warehouses no longer in use on nearly 20 acres.  

The properties lie within the Gainesville Community Reinvestment Area (GCRA), which set aside funds for the last time the city looked to invest in the district. However, contamination concerns also require the commission to take careful steps and could restrict some options, like uncovering the creek that runs through the property.  

The city started an invitation to negotiate in 2016 and entered talks with Cross Street Partners. The talks failed to reach a contract and lasted from November 2017 until March 2019. According to Andrew Persons, special advisor to the city manager, Cross Street Partners underwent significant restructuring that pulled them away.  

Map of the power district.
Courtesy City of Gainesville

Ward listed the power district as one of 15 priorities when he was sworn in as mayor in January. Since then, a state audit and GRU bill has placed the city on different footing. At the meeting, commissioners asked what control the city would have over the power district if the GRU bill passes and a new authority takes control of the utility.  

“I would still like to have some control over these six parcels if [the bill] moves forward,” Eastman said. 

The commissioners, and many public commenters, spoke to the importance of using local businesses and creatively using the property. Multiple commissioners also said that much of the land should enter the tax roll through private ownership.  

The commissioners made no motions, or restriction of workshops, but staff listened to bring back guidance. The next meeting on the power district was tentatively scheduled for June 8.  

Commissioner Reina Saco said the city needs new assessments on the properties to learn the current value of the land, and Ward added that the city should figure out which buildings can be restored and how much that could cost.  

City Manager Cynthia Curry said staff would bring back more information on these and other areas—making way for a local preference in partners, updating the environmental study, splitting the land into several lots, placing a city easement over the creek and looking into land trust carve outs.  

Ward said not all that information must be returned to the commission by June 8, but he said the city must keep moving.  

“This is an ongoing conversation, but what we must do, I believe, is get through this process and keep the wheels turning so that, 10 years from now, we don’t look back and say ‘Gosh, I wish we had done something with that property,’” Ward said. “That’s the only, to me, completely unacceptable outcome.” 

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Uh Oh. Hands in the Cookie Jar. Snouts in the food trough. While this Commission , which is under the watchful eye of the State in coming up with an exit strategy ,are they trying to take GRU Assets and Make them theirs? Asking for a friend.

Jeff Gehmann

Here we go again! “I would still like to have some control over these six parcels..” Of course they would. When will they understand. Just because they were elected to a small city commission, doesn’t mean they know anything about business, zoning, real estate, marketing, a utility provider, etc. Tip: If you don’t know, sit down and shut up!

Jeffrey Chaney

Sell to help pay off debt and add taxes to offset the high tax rate homeowners have.