Gainesville, Hall County, GA

9 proposals to improve downtown Gainesville

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9 proposals to improve downtown Gainesville

October 1, 2015 

A new concept plan for downtown Gainesville focuses on the area’s potential and how it can meet the desires of millennials and Generation Xers between the ages of 20 and 44. 

Major proposals in the plan, which will be published online later this month, include the following. 

• New housing 

• Food truck events at Lake Lanier parks 

• Fairs and festivals in the green space across from the midtown bridge 

• New lighting along park trails 

• Improved streets and walkways downtown 

• Better connectivity between the square, midtown and business corridors 

• Night projections to advertise events on the walls of downtown buildings 

• Improved corner of old Hall County jail site 

• Public art and murals 

Developing the strategic plan to guide and manage growth around Gainesville’s downtown square was predicated on identifying just where the city stands in 2015, where it wants to be in 2045 and how to get from here to there. 

But it’s also meant to be a living document, officials said, tweaking and evolving with the times. 

While words like historic, quaint, friendly and charming were common descriptions of downtown among those included in the process of developing the plan, so too was potential and improvement. 

With the young target demographic, affordable housing, new mixed-use developments and special events are critical, officials said. 

For example, that could mean generating more active use downtown by promoting frequent live music or hosting fairs and festivals in green spaces along Jesse Jewell Parkway. 

Connecting downtown with nearby residential neighborhoods and business corridors, such as Green Street, Oak Street and midtown, is also key to ensuring downtown’s place in the life of residents and visitors, officials said. 

Gainesville Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras said the plan could help bridge the gap between minority and lower-income neighborhoods in the midtown area — such as those families living in public housing on Atlanta Street — and businesses and affluence downtown and in nearby residences along Green Street. 

“It’s good to see that Gainesville continues to move forward,” she added. “It’s going to connect … whatever happens to Atlanta Street is just going to be tied into the new plan.” 

Officials said that because downtown is surrounded by major thoroughfares, improving sidewalks and streets to make them safer and more walkable from places like Brenau University and midtown is critical. 

“Crossing the moat” of Jesse Jewell Parkway, West Academy Street or EE Butler Parkway is never easy, officials said. 

This might include adding new paving at crosswalks to highlight a path to downtown. 

Plans are also in the works to install wayfinding signs directing traffic to points of interest. 

City planning staff said they have developed 22 action plans to identify phases of construction for each project, as well as funding and a timeline for completion. 

“We all know this takes resources, whether we’re talking money … I personally would like to see our downtown become a destination point,” Wangemann said. 

Many of the proposals in the plan are seen as quick and inexpensive fixes to better the aesthetics in and around downtown. 

Most projects hinge on the support of the City Council, which is expected to help prioritize implementation of the new concept plan. 

“It is an exciting plan,” Councilman Bob Hamrick said. “It’s one we don’t need to put on a chair to collect dust.” 

Officials said meetings with focus groups, such as students at local public schools, and individual interviews with government officials and business leaders, helped guide the plan’s design and innovative ideas. 

It’s not the first sweeping, all-encompassing, long-term plan hashed out by city officials and local residents. 

The Gainesville 2030 Comprehensive Plan, a 1980 plan for downtown’s development, and even a 1962 “Hammer Plan” have attempted to address what the square’s role in the life of the city will be for the next generation of residents.