Arts district taking shape in downtown Gainesville

By: Ronald Wayne

Fans of the monthly art walks in downtown Gainesville will be hoofing it a bit farther in the near future.

Main Street south of the bar and restaurant district is becoming a hub for arts-related and creative endeavors such as the new homes for the Gainesville Fine Arts Association (GFAA)  and the Doris Bardon Community Cultural Center.  The new Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention, opening late next year, is expected to bring thousands of people to an area of the city they might not have visited unless they needed car repairs or construction supplies.

“Essentially the size of most people’s expectations of what constitutes downtown Gainesville will double,” said Sarah Vidal-Finn, interim director of the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) . “We’ll see more food truck rallies, art festivals, joggers, restaurants and more. The juxtaposition of nature, industry and the arts we’re seeing here is truly special.”

This mostly industrial-zoned area near the new 32-acre Depot Park is already home to the current Cade Museum building at 904 S. Main St., which offers classes and other activities.  Close by are the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, the Civic Media Center and some newer businesses such as the Sequential Artists Workshop and the SoMa art media HUB.  In just over a year of operation, nearby First Magnitude Brewery has hosted an arts festival, a book launch party and numerous other events.

Supporters of GFAA and The Doris wanted their permanent homes to be near downtown, and this part of South Main Street offered proximity plus less expensive real estate.

A former car cleaning shop at 1310 S. Main St. will become the first permanent home for the GFAA, a 92-year-old group with more than 275 members who have exhibited their work at numerous small venues around town in addition to annual shows at Tioga Town Center and Thornebrook Shopping Center.

Karen Koegel began a quest for a permanent home after she became GFAA president in January 2014.

“I introduced myself to everyone everywhere I went as the president of the GFAA, a 92-year-old art association and oh, by the way, we need a home,” she said. She finally found success after meeting Scott and April Schroeder, owners of Liquid Creative Studio, a marketing agency, who also were seeking a new home for their business. They will share space in the 3,500-square-foot building.

“We are committed to the arts, and we are committed to helping develop a community that is vibrant, progressive and inclusive,” April Schroeder said. “Creativity is the foundation of innovation, and the development of the SoMa creative district is critical to the future of Gainesville.”

The Schroeders also own the Business Report.

Koegel said marketing the district will be important because most people are not familiar with the area. The GFAA will offer workshops, classes and a different show each month. “The possibilities for us are great,” she said.

The Doris left its first location on North Main Street near Eighth Avenue because the rent had increased to $3,200 a month and the group could not agree on a purchase price with the owner, said Norma Homan, treasurer of the Arts Association of Alachua County, which manages The Doris and Artwalk Gainesville, which will be headquartered at the new building.

The group found the space it needed in the former Back Stage Lounge at 1315 S. Main St., a perfect location for many reasons, she said.

“It was important to us to be downtown, to be accessible to all of Alachua County,” she said. “The purchase came with two tenants, and the mortgage terms were conducive to our success.”

The space has three huge rooms, plenty of parking, which the old site lacked, and can accommodate two galleries, artist-in-residence studios, a library, performance space, and more, she said.

Although renovations are expected to continue for some time, space for a gallery, stage, print room, and class space will open in October, she added. “We anticipate that when we are fully operational we will have a clay studio, printmaking, possibly glass work, as well as other visual art media,” she said.

Art lovers who venture to the new exhibit spaces at GFAA or the Doris will be able to easily stop by the First Magnitude Brewery, which opened last year along SE Veitch Street, parallel to South Main.

“Craft beer is a very creative process, it’s scientific and it’s art,” said Meg The Losen, one of the brewery co-owners. People interested in craft beer are often interested in music and other artistic endeavors, she said.

The brewery owners chose the space because the industrial zoning of the area allowed some flexibility and for several other reasons that made it perfect.

“We always wanted to be in this area, and we wanted to be near the Rails to Trails, if not adjacent to it, just south of downtown so that people could hopefully enjoy craft beer and then continue their evening, and it could complement each other with people going back and forth and enjoying all aspects of a vibrant extended downtown area,” she said. They wanted to be near Depot Park and the Cade Museum as well.

Their market research found that people would welcome a brewery in this section of the city and close to a place where people can cycle. “Since we opened the tasting room last August, it’s been absolutely unbelievable,” she said. Many groups that have come are arts related, she added.

City redevelopment leaders are pleased with the synergy being seen and even the unofficial name, the SoMa creative district. “The SoMa name bubbled up organically, which positively exemplifies the ownership that the artist community is feeling as it emerges along this corridor,” said the CRA’s Vidal-Finn.

“With Depot Park opening in 2016, the progress we’re making with the Power District implementation, and the surge in private sector investments we’ve seen along the South Main Street region, we feel that the community is really rallying around this dream to transform this area into a fun, eclectic creative district,” she added.

Ron Wayne is a freelance writer and editor in the Gainesville region. He can be reached at ufeditor78@gmail.com

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