Local leaders tackle Citizens Field upgrades

Citizens Field has seen its fair share of touchdowns as home base for three of Gainesville’s high school football teams.

For decades, Buchholz High School, Gainesville High School and Eastside High School have used the field through their seasons, and the school district uses the field for other activities throughout the year.

But time takes a toll and the facility needs renovating, according to Gainesville Commissioner David Arreola.

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“The field itself is just about the only thing in good condition,” Arreola said in a phone interview, adding that the stadium looks that same, or worse, as when current parents attended decades ago.

Arreola brought up the stadium at a Dec. 6 commission meeting about the city’s $32 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. He wanted city staff to look into how some funds might be used in partnership with the school district.

Arreola said the idea of renovating the area came up in 2017 with an artist’s rendering that included space for food trucks and farmer’s markets.

Citizens Field weeds and divots

“The centerpiece of all that investment would be a renovated Citizens Field, which would really modernize the stadium experience for parents,” Arreola said.

The City of Gainesville owns the facility, but through a 40-year agreement with Alachua County Public Schools, the district keeps up the maintenance. That agreement ends in 2024.

Other commissioners said the ARPA money won’t work for the field because of the constraints Congress placed on the funds. Arreola argued ARPA could be used through the negative economic impacts category.

Commissioner Harvey Ward said Citizens Field is a priority for him.

“There are emergency items at Citizens Field that need to be addressed,” Ward said, adding that the facility is already on the City of Gainesville’s Wild Spaces, Public Places list, a 2016 voter-approved sales tax to improve and maintain parks and recreational facilities.

But Ward wants the city to look at the entire complex, not just the football stadium, saying the whole area could be something special for the city.

Buchholz football Coach Mark Whittemore called Citizens Field unique in Florida because it’s one of the last places where high school teams use a county or city stadium. Most high schools use their own fields at the school.

He’s grateful for the field and its large capacity―around 5,000. But he said the facility could use some work to keep up with the age, especially the areas that can’t be used because of structural problems.

That space is needed, too. For big, cross-town rivalry games, Citizens Field is standing room only.

“It’s not broken, Whittemore said. “The community field concept is doable and it works for us.”

If all three schools continue sharing, he’d like to see the field turfed like Starke’s Bradford High School and other regional schools.

The ARPA funds will return to the commission on Jan. 6 and the commission can decide then how to divy up what remains. Citizens Field is unlikely to get a piece as the commission decided not to include the stadium in the ARPA conversation at the last meeting.

But commissioners said Citizens Field funds could come from a couple of sources, such as the Gainesville Community Reinvestment Area or the Wild Spaces, Public Places tax, if it decides to move forward with renovation at the site.

Citizens Field visitor side

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