East Gainesville Economic Development
One of my earliest memories is walking across the street with my dad to the old Mac’s Drive-In on East University for grits and eggs (still my favorite breakfast.)
When I was growing up in East Gainesville in the 1970s and 80s there were multiple restaurants and grocery stores. There were home improvement stores and banks. When people ask if it’s possible for those things to exist east of Waldo Road, my simple answer is yes. I know it can happen, because I’ve eaten in those restaurants. I’ve shopped in those stores and deposited in those banks.
Our commission has partnered with UF Health and Alachua County to invest in a health clinic that will be built on Hawthorne Road. We’ll be building a transit hub – a bus transfer station – on Hawthorne Road. We’ve committed to investing in a grocery store in the neighborhood as well, and while it hasn’t been easy, money is set aside and we are going to keep working at it.
I want the city to continue to make those connections because it’s clear that the market isn’t going to get this done on its own. The city is committed – I am committed – to creating these opportunities.
I’m proud that no City of Gainesville worker makes less than $15 an hour. As one of the region’s largest employers, if we are serious about closing the wage inequality gap (and we are) this is imperative. Last year we agreed to begin requiring that same wage floor for the workers of businesses that contract with the city. It will take some time and revisions of contracts, but we’ll get there. The money the City of Gainesville spends on behalf of our neighbors is a statement of our values, and we value working families.
I believe that being a City Commissioner is about more than waiting for ideas to cross our desks. Beginning in 2018 I connected with local labor leaders to ask what policies we should be working on, above and beyond our work to directly increase wages. That conversation finally bore fruit in 2021 when the commission committed to my program to require that large city construction contracts include a percentage of apprentice workers and another percentage of disadvantaged workers working on the project. I believe this creates a demand for those workers that did not exist before.
During my time on the commission we’ve been able to improve relations with all seven of our bargaining units, and today we have ongoing three-year agreements with each. It hasn’t always been this way. Labor relations with FOP, our police union, were at an all-time low when I took office. I’ve reached out to our officers and held open office hours at GPD headquarters many times specifically to make myself available for conversation with these essential city workers.
The past year, as COVID has raged and we worked hard to convince city workers to get vaccinated, rather than mandating vaccination, I worked to get the commission to offer cash incentives for vaccination. When that effort was derailed, I led the effort early in 2022 to make good on the promise and continue to offer the incentive.
For many years, suburban sprawl developers salivated over what they might build on the more than 700 acres of virgin forest and wetlands nestled between NW 43rd St and 441, long known as “The Weiss Tract.” But a hundred years from now that property will still be forest and wetlands. The commission unanimously approved my motion to partner with Alachua County and create “Four Creeks Preserve,” conserving these 711 acres in perpetuity.
I want to take that same spirit of conservation of our public treasures to the heart of our city as well. Boulware Springs and Sweetwater Branch are waiting for us to discover and use to their best public purpose, and I will fight to use them to connect our neighbors to each other and to the world around us.
Boulware Springs is where Gainesville first became Gainesville. The idea of a town named Gainesville originated at a community gathering at this spring, located between what are now SE 15th Street and the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail, just north of Paynes Prairie. It was the source of our municipal water utility and the amenity that convinced the legislature to place the University of Florida in our city. The pump house and spring have fallen into disrepair, but they and the rolling hills and majestic live oaks on the property are waiting for us to turn this into a place where weddings, family reunions and retreats are commonplace and where we can tell the story of our natural resources and of our community. We owe it to ourselves to make this amazing facility into a jewel that all of our neighbors can take pride in.
Sweetwater Branch flows (mostly above ground) from NE 10th Avenue through the Duck Pond neighborhood (it actually is the “Duck Pond”), under University Avenue and back up for several blocks behind the library before it disappears under the Power District, reappearing through the Springhill neighborhood and through the Sweetwater Wetlands Park on its way into Paynes Prairie. As it makes its way through old Gainesville, much of this creek is already surrounded by parks, including the banks of the Duck Pond and the mostly forgotten park south of University Avenue. This often-abused, sometimes-loved natural resource very clearly wants to be Gainesville’s front porch. It wants to connect historic neighborhoods and parks, from Tom Petty Park to the north to Depot Park and Sweetwater Wetlands in the south. I am committed to creating a greenway to fully connect these parks and the neighbors who use them.
The Citizens Field/MLK Center complex at the north east corner of Waldo Road and NE 8th Avenue is another enormous opportunity for our neighbors. Generations of high school students and their families have enjoyed Citizens Field, but it has been severely neglected over the years. The MLK Center, the GFR administration complex and its on-site station, Dwight Hunter Pool and the open field on the site are all ready to offer our community something greater. We are overdue for a community conversation about what that will be. We know it will serve as a nexus of the community investment along 8th Avenue that has already been made and that is in-process already from Reserve Park just to the west to the Clarence R. Kelly Center a few blocks east and the potential arts center at the former Duval Elementary. We have a variety of potential funding sources, from Wild Spaces/Public Places to the GCRA to potential partnerships with Alachua County Schools and the county and others. As mayor I will make these connections and commit to those conversations so we can create the best use possible for this magnificent corner.
Communities across our nation face a housing crisis, and Gainesville is no different. We didn’t get into this situation quickly, and we’re not going to get out of it quickly. Anyone who tells you they have the solution is either not being honest with you or simply doesn’t understand the problem. What we need, as a community, to meet this crisis is an entire toolbox of solutions.
More than a year ago I proposed a set of three initiatives to my commission colleagues, and they are all slowly coming to fruition. I’m proud of the My Neighborhood program and Heirs Property programs, both of which build neighborhood and family stability in historically-Black neighborhoods. We’re making progress in working more closely with housing non-profits including the Gainesville Housing Authority to turn city-owned lots into high-quality, affordable places to live.
We’ve also worked with the Neighborhood Housing Development Corporation on new apartment buildings like Deer Creek, an affordable senior living community near our Senior Center, and Habitat for Humanity on a number of homesites. There is no fast path to affordability, but I have worked with all of these organizations personally to help create the best working relationships possible to get us there as a community.
There are no great cities that do not have a commitment to great art.
As a former board member of the Hippodrome State Theatre I take the arts in our community very seriously. Our city has been a consistent partner with the Hippodrome, with Dance Alive and with the Gainesville Community Orchestra, but we know we have to reach deeper than that. We are building a relationship with MusicGNV and other organizations to encourage younger musical artists, and are working directly with Alachua County Schools on creating an arts center at the former Duval Elementary School.
I believe our community needs to more intentionally develop a way to connect our performing arts entities and commit to creating the sort of community that people around the nation and the world think of when they think of the performing arts.
Our commission pledged that our city would use and generate 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2045. We were celebrated by national organizations for doing so, but passing a resolution was the easy part.
The hard part is committing to a plan that will get us there in a responsible, affordable and realistic way. Right now between a quarter and a third of the power our utility generates is renewable, thanks to the Deerhaven Renewables Plant and other commitments our neighbors have made over the past decade or so. We know utility-scale solar power is the next step, but we also know we need to produce that energy in a socially-responsible, equitable manner. That’s easy to speechify and to promise, but harder to deliver, especially with the technology that is currently available to us. But deliver it we must. We will have to create a plan and stick to it, using the tools we have in-hand as we go. There is no option but to succeed in reaching the goal of 100% renewability, and succeed we will.
We have inherited excellent fire service infrastructure, but our fire stations are aging. One of the most important tests for our next mayor will be how we approach funding for the stations we must replace. I have worked hard to build connections in both command staff and labor at GFR, and I am committed to creating the next level of excellence for fire and rescue service in Gainesville.
Gainesville Fire Rescue is one of the highest-rated departments in the nation, and I am committed to providing GFR the resources they need to maintain excellent basic service, as well as expanding our Community Resource Paramedicine (CRP) program, which has been a national model of innovative and economical medical service provision.
We have a strong commitment in Gainesville to community-oriented policing, and I believe that GPD’s “One Community” approach is the path we should continue to follow. The only way out of the wave of gun violence that is sweeping our nation – and as a result, our city – is through. We must continue to build better connections between our neighborhoods and our police. GPD is a national model in many ways, and I will continue to support our police leadership. As mayor I will also continue to hold open office hours for our police officers and staff.
The way we move about our city, whether as drivers, pedestrians, cyclists or bus riders is one of the most obvious expressions of how we connect to each other and to the world around us.
We must balance the economy, efficiency and ease of use of our system of streets, sidewalks and buses without sacrificing the safety of our neighbors. That’s a tall order, but I have always taken injuries and deaths that occur on our streets personally. As long as our neighbors are killed in preventable accidents on our city streets, we have not done enough. I am committed to reaching the goal of zero pedestrian and cyclist deaths in Gainesville.
Our Regional Transit System – RTS – is one of the best in America for a city our size. It is also a terrific example of what happens when a city intentionally partners with its higher-education neighbors. I fought for years to remove fares on RTS for our seniors and our youth, and as mayor I will fight to remove RTS fares for all users. Removing barriers to ridership for all one of the ways we create a transit system that better serves all our neighbors. Additionally, we must create all of the neighborhood easy-access transit zones that are described in the ten-year transit plan all our commissioners agreed to. Creating a system of smaller, more flexible buses and routes that feed into larger buses and fixed routes will help our neighbors get to the jobs, services and commerce they need affordably while taking more cars off our streets.