Writer: Roger Nielsen
Four bustling streets ring Gainesville’s historic downtown like a moat, stifling growth by limiting pedestrian access from Northeast Georgia Medical Center and the Brenau University campus.
The breeze from passing cars ruffled Jessica Tullar’s hair as she described how high-visibility crosswalks and landscaped medians will make it less intimidating for people navigate the moat on foot. Besides calming traffic and offering mid-street havens for pedestrians, improved access and landscaped medians will make properties inside the moat more attractive to developers, according to Tullar, Gainesville’s special projects manager.
“Greening the moat” is one component of an ambitious, grant-supported downtown revitalization strategy conceived in partnership with the Carl Vinson Institute to Government. The program also includes encouraging mixed-use development downtown, building a park and greenway nearby, and clearing land beside the park for commercial growth.
Gainesville leaders are determined to continue reviving the city’s core through a partnership fostered by the Institute and supported by a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Wells Fargo Environmental Solutions for Communities grant. Institute faculty helped the city obtain the grant for the $130,000 project, called “Creating Connectivity in Gainesville.” The concept came from a more detailed downtown strategic plan the Institute developed for the city in 2015.
Everyone in Gainesville is eager for the multi-layered plan to proceed, according to Mayor Danny Dunagan. “These projects put a focus on our downtown area,” Dunagan said. “I think it’s going to have a huge impact. We’re excited and we’re moving forward.”
Dunagan, Tullar and a team of government leaders are busily implementing projects outlined in the revitalization plan. The city is soliciting bids to install high-visibility crosswalks to span the moat. The project will also feature environmentally friendly planted medians that provide a mid-street haven for pedestrians and use attractive landscaping to filter runoff, according to Leigh Elkins, one of the Institute faculty members working with Gainesville.
Meanwhile, the city continues to launch other projects outlined in the strategic plan, which the Institute prepared through the Georgia Downtown Renaissance Partnership with the Georgia Municipal Association, the Georgia Cities Foundation, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and others. Median design work is in progress. An attractively renovated square is ready to host outdoor concerts and cultural events. Murals to beautify blank walls and add a sense of place are in the works. And an old jail just across the moat from downtown is being torn down to make way for private development, according to City Manager Bryan Lackey.
“The strategic plan and the Wells Fargo grant show people that we’re doing strategic public investment to spur private investment,” Lackey said.