Built to last

The old post office just vacated began serving Gainesville in 1911. It has been, and is, a very imposing building. Many were the stories one could hear from older citizens of the ‘good old days’…when Gainesville had less then 10,000 population.

History of Gainesville, Jess G. Davis, 1966.

The day when public buildings helped define our city are past.

One hundred and ten years after its construction, the old post office, with its six striking Corinthian columns, remains the iconic essence of downtown. Its classic Beaux Arts style even more fitting for its current tenant – the Hippodrome Theater – than the postal clerks it was built to house.

Nor is it difficult to imagine that, one hundred and ten years from today, that sturdy building will still be standing and occupied.

We taxpayers really don’t build ‘em like that anymore.

Which is not to say that nobody does.

Just across the street from The Hipp, the big hole in the ground that used to be a dirt parking lot is about a year away from opening its doors as Gainesville’s newest hotel.

Like the old post office, it is being built to endure the ages.

Unlike the old post office, it is being built without public subsidy.

Consider that the standard design of the student apartment towers popping up around UF is a concrete ground floor topped by wood framed upper stories. Built to meet the market trends of the moment, they are nobody’s conception of the Gainesville “look.” And they will certainly not stand the test of time.

By contrast, the hotel that Mike Warren is constructing will be six floors of poured concrete. It is being built to “green globe” energy standards that adds to construction costs but insures long term sustainability.

“We hope this project will jump start more investment and create some vitality in downtown Gainesville,” Warren, president of the Gainesville-based AMJ Group, told me. “We believe that without private investment in the downtown area it’s hard to see the city of Gainesville continuing to grow as a quality place for its citizens.”

Make no mistake, this new hotel is a big deal.

It’s a big deal because it will be Gainesville’s first Hyatt Place, which sort of makes it a Lexus in a town used to driving a Ford.

It’s a nearly $35 million project, which is a really big deal when you consider that the whole thing came together during a time when Covid had all but destroyed the hospitality, travel and event industries.

By way of comparison, the last major downtown private investment, the Hampton Inn, cost less than half of that.

And it’s a big deal because it won’t be out by the Interstate.

Alachua County commissioners think it expedient to put the new sports arena out in the land of chain restaurants, big boxes and fast driving. Warren and his fellow investors are putting their money on downtown Gainesville’s unique “sense of place.” They stayed home when the “smart money” keeps sprawling west.

“This is not a cheap build, but it will still be here in 50 or 100 years,” AMJ Vice President Anthony Lyons told me.

Mostly this is a big deal because, in recent years, downtown’s fortunes have seemed more precarious than prosperous. This hotel is a transformative project that has the potential to reshape downtown’s destiny.

Much as the old post office did back in the “good old days.”

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at www.floridavelocipede.com. Email him at ron@freegnv.com

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for the being one of the few writers to have something positive to say about a development in Gainesville. Development has become so synonymous with “destruction” that we’ve forgotten there is a RIGHT way to develop. It’s not impossible for developers to be a positive force in our community; To built things that last. that dont rob future generations to enrich their ancestors.

    A visit to downtown Sarasota can be a reminder that a vibrant downtown is a great investment in community. It cal also be good for the bottom line – if done right.

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