Unity Park to officially open

Unity Park will hold its official opening ceremony on Saturday as Gainesville’s newest neighborhood park, just under a year from when construction started.

After a dedication presentation at 10 a.m. and light refreshments, it’ll be all fun and games at the new facility which has been operating since early September.

NE 31st Avenue Park - Gainesville near power poles and in disrepair

The park replaces NE 31st Avenue Park, located a few hundred feet to the east at 1710 NE 31st, which dates to the 1960s.

Betsy Waite, director of Wild Spaces & Public Places for Gainesville, said the old park was in a state of disrepair and Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) preferred to move the park away from high voltage lines in the area.

GRU donated land it already owned to the city and the Wild Spaces & Public Places sales tax funded the construction of the park, totaling around $1,120,951. The Women’s Club of Gainesville also gave $10,000 for the park’s completion.

In a phone interview, Waite said the new land opened up a lot more possibilities for planting shade trees and adding a pavilion. A brand new park also meant designing from scratch, an opportunity to create a space suitable for everyone.

“I think the design was very successful,” Waite said, explaining how the basketball courts were offset from the playgrounds. “There’s a lot of design elements that I think were really, really savvy in just making a space that’s comfortable for everyone.”

Gainesville opened up the naming process to the community and Unity Park won. Designers even incorporated the name into the layout with the walking loop forming a perfect circle in the midst of the park.

Unity Park circle walkway in middle of park

“With the renaming of the park ‘Unity Park,’ I mean, a circle is very fitting as far as unity, keeping with that theme of everyone coming together,” Waite said.

The park includes modern playground equipment, two basketball courts, a community garden, sidewalk games and a walking trail with fitness stations.

Waite said outdoor activities and spaces for neighbors to exercise and take a mental break are important and something the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted.

Keeping the city’s parks in working order is also important as most of the infrastructure for the city was built in the 1960s and 70s and needs to be updated.

“Having the dedicating half-cent sales tax, it’s made a world of difference,” Waite said. “And I know we have a ton of additional improvements that we’re working on in the coming years.”

Gainesville receives 35.78 percent of Alachua County’s Wild Spaces & Public Places sales tax and netted $7.18 million in 2020.

In April, construction started at the Clarence R. Kelly Community Center and Park. Located off of NE 8th Avenue, the city expects the center and park to open in the spring of 2022.

The project comes with an approximate $2.29 million price tag and will contain a catering kitchen, game room, computer lab, event lawn, walking trail and playground equipment.

Waite said the city also has some smaller projects in the works, like finishing the boardwalk at the Loblolly Woods Nature Park―slated to finish in February and cost $370,000.

And renovations to the recreation area of the Howard Bishop Middle School, including track, basketball and tennis courts, will wrap up in the coming weeks.

Saturday’s opening will include the following speakers and a ribbon cutting ceremony:

  • Roxy Gonzalez, Interim Director for Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs
  • Desmon Duncan-Walker, City Commissioner
  • Jo Moretta, GFWC Woman’s Club, Inc. former President
  • Pastor Anderson, neighborhood representative
  • Betsy Waite, Director, Wild Spaces and Public Places
Unity Park new playground equipment in various shapes
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