By Kamal I. Latham
Great things are coming to Alachua and Newberry. A major road project and improved park and recreational facilities are in the pipeline. With nearly $10 million in combined infrastructure investment on the horizon, visionary leaders in both cities have impressive plans for the future.
Governor Rick Scott announced a multi-million dollar grant to the City of Alachua to fund a project estimated to help create more than 1,100 new jobs in the city over the next 10 years. Dubbed the “San Felasco Parkway” project, this economic development initiative through the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund will help construct the parkway and related utilities.
City of Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper believes this project will have a positive impact. “Alachua was awarded a $6.75 million dollar economic grant this year from the State of Florida. We will partner with UF to make the 280 acres connected to Progress Park come alive with a landscaped divided highway complete with sidewalks, bike lanes, water and wastewater infrastructure. Once again “The Good Life Community” opens the door of opportunity to our city and Progress Park to continue to grow in a very positive way.”
There was intense competition for a limited pool of public dollars. Alachua City’s grant application was one of 255 sent to the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, which received over $820 million in requests. Only $85 million was available for the award. The state grant funded portion of the project will connect County Road 241 to Progress Boulevard through a large tract of vacant and unimproved land owned by the University of Florida Foundation.
Already one of the most dynamic cities in Florida, Alachua will strengthen its position as a biotech hotspot. The project will establish a new economic growth corridor by providing a shovel-ready site of nearly 300 acres and a link to Progress Park, one of the largest bioscience clusters in Florida. Progress Park has over 35 businesses and is home to the world-renowned Florida Sid Martin Biotechnology Institute, which was named the 2017 Incubator of the Year.
The forward-thinking City Commission approved a list of park and recreation infrastructure improvement projects to be funded from Wild Spaces Public Places (WSPP) sales tax revenue expected over the next eight years. Alachua County voters approved the half-cent sales tax ballot initiative earmarked for recreational expenses in 2016. The revenues are being distributed between Alachua County and its nine municipalities.
City of Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe sees great value in this public investment. “Newberry is receiving just under $3 million in WSPP funds, and we are very excited to invest the money in our children through the expansion and renovation of our Easton Sports Complex. It will be a wonderful addition that will continue to advance Newberry’s goal of being the Sports Tourism hub of North Central Florida.”
Six projects in Newberry are slated to receive funding. With a total budget around $2.2 million, the Easton-Newberry Sports Complex is the largest. The projects, their budgets, and selected improvements are profiled below.
Easton-Newberry Sports Complex: $2.2 million
Interior Roads / Parking Improvements; Multi-Purpose Turf Facilities; Sports Field Lighting
Jimmy Durden Park: $311,000
Baseball Field Renovations; Lighted Beach Volleyball Courts; Multi-Purpose Fields
Freddie Warmack Park: $256,000
Parking Area Improvements; Baseball Field Renovations; Basketball Court Renovation
Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center and Park: $167,000
Basketball Court Renovation; Playground Equipment; Concrete Walkways
Lois Forte Park: $69,000
Amphitheater; Park Benches; Parking Area Improvements
Municipal Building: $86,000
Exterior Landscape / Lighting; Roof Replacement; Signage