The dream to have a world class park in downtown Gainesville took a giant step on Wednesday, September 2, as area leaders broke ground on Depot Park, a 32-acre reclamation project at the corner of South Main Street and Depot Drive.
The park is situated on land that was formerly a dumping site for Gainesville Gas Co. Millions of dollars have been spent on the restoration of the land and now construction is starting on the city park.
“This marks the beginning of the end, in a positive way,” Gainesville City Manager Russ Blackburn stated when asked about the park.
“The remediation is complete and now we can build a world class park with outstanding water features, children’s playgrounds and green space. It’s going to be a fantastic place,” Blackburn added.
Blackburn was one of several local leaders that spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony. Also speaking were: Sarah Vidal-Finn, Community Redevelopment Agency interim director; Gigi Simmons, chair of the Downtown Redevelopment Advisory Board; Pegeen Hanrahan, former mayor of Gainesville; Ed Bielarski, general manager of Gainesville Regional Utilities; Teresa Scott, director of the Gainesville Public Works Department; Greg Strong, director with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection; Charles “Chuck” Chestnut IV, chair of the Alachua County Commission and Ed Braddy, mayor of Gainesville.
The development, located on the south end of downtown Gainesville, has been the focus of city administrations since the days when former mayor Pegeen Hanrahan was on the city commission. She was first elected to the city commission in 1996. Hanrahan served as mayor of Gainesville from 2004 to 2010 and said that funds for the park’s development was a major part of the city’s federal funds request each year.
The soil contamination came as a result of dumping coal tar from an old Gainesville Gas Co. power plant and arsenic from a nearby railroad yard. Cleanup, soil reconstruction and park development costs will exceed $35 million and the park is slated to be open in 2016.
Mayor Ed Braddy promised the crowd at the groundbreaking that the park would be a real asset for downtown Gainesville and the work thus far represented a big environmental cleanup effort from the city. The mayor said that tons and tons of contaminated soil had been removed and that park plans called for a football field-sized children’s playground and walking trails.
In addition to the park, the train station depot is being renovated with plans for the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention and a restaurant.