Urban Renaissance Stretches Far and Wide

Diverse partners are working with the city to revitalize a broad and historic area of central Gainesville that extends to Depot Park.

Ed Poppell and Gigi Simmons are catalysts in transforming two neighborhoods that are less than a half mile apart—Innovation Square and the Porters neighborhood.

Workers apply metal shingles like those used in the original construction to the Gainesville Depot while a group of business leaders tour the building.

The two areas seem to have little in common, but they both are on the move—part of a massive revitalization south of University Avenue at the center of Gainesville.

As head of the University of Florida Development Corp., Poppell’s goal is for Innovation Square to rival other global “live, work and play communities” that are hotbeds for bringing research to the marketplace.

Poppell predicts that Innovation Square one day will be nearly as significant to the Gainesville economy as the University of Florida is today, with a dense, thriving urban environment that includes stores, restaurants and upscale condos as well as offices and laboratories for innovative companies. “It exciting,” he says. “We’re going to be another Austin, another Silicon Valley.”

As president of the Porters Community Neighborhood Organization, Simmons’ mission is to foster neighborliness and prosperity in the neighborhood in which her family has lived for four generations. The historic area between campus and downtown and just southeast of Innovation Square was the location of the first University of Florida football game and had thriving businesses in the days before desegregation.

Members of the Porters Community Center Organization work with organizations from throughout the community. Pictured on the top row are Lakesha Hobdy of the University of Florida’s HealthStreet program and Community Center Organization President Gigi Simmons. At bottom, are Secretary Dave Miller, Vice President Stephanie Seawright and Gainesville Police Department Officer Charlene Collins.

“Now is the time for the Porters community to have an identity,” Simmons says. “It’s a lovely neighborhood that has been overlooked.”

The work on Innovation Square and Porters are part of larger efforts to revitalize the area between South Main Street and the UF campus. Activity includes:
– Constructing the 32-acre Depot Park, which will include a playground, pavilions and a promenade around a pond that will collect storm water from downtown.
– Building the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention.
– Rehabbing the historic Depot Building, the oldest part of which was built around 1860.
– Converting Depot Avenue into a spacious thoroughfare with extensive landscaping.
– Creating a network of bicycle paths that converge at the upgraded overpass at the intersection of Southwest 13th Street and Archer Road.

The City of Gainesville is taking the lead is building the infrastructure—the streets, utility lines, bike paths and storm water drainage—that are the underpinning of the new development.

The city has been planning the improvements for many years through various agencies, including the Community Redevelopment Agency, GRU and the Public Works Department. Many of the projects are being funded by a blend of city funds, along with federal, state and private dollars.

“Everything ties together, and it’s all coming together magically,” says Diane Gilreath, a project director with the CRA.

While Innovation Square has been praised as a key to keeping Gainesville competitive in attracting innovative firms, Depot Park helps make the city attractive as well, says CRA Director Kelly Fisher.

“We’re competing worldwide for creative class people,” she says. “You can’t understate the importance that Depot Park, with all its green space, and the Cade Museum provide as pieces of the puzzle that make us competitive.”

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