Michael Blachly is former director of UF’s Phillips Center For The Performing Arts and Florida State University’s Opening Nights Performing Arts. The GNV City Commission is holding a workshop on Tuesday at 3 p.m. to discuss the future of the Power District. If you agree with Blachly, let your commissioners know how you feel.
The Gainesville Regional Utilities Power District compound has been sitting idle for years. Previously a company out of Baltimore said that they’d develop the property prior to their company being sold, which canceled their initiative to revitalize the area.
Gainesville is “ripe” for this location, which is owned by the City, to be developed as an artisan community blending multi-use features with a focus on creating a new Gainesville “destination.”
Artisans reflect a community, its surroundings and its citizenry. They can be an integrative part of urban planning and community building. They can help stimulate the local economy, spur innovation, cultural diversity, civic engagement and social change.
Ideas to populate the Power District include, but are not limited to, a potential home for existing cultural producers such as the Acrosstown Repertory Theater, and the Actor’s Warehouse. Local artistic visionaries, entrepreneurs, and pioneers could stimulate the evolution of artist studios, small performance venues, rehearsal space for local bands and musical groups, dance studios, writer’s workshops, animation studios, glass blowing, leatherworks, iron sculpting, thrift stores, bike and scooter shops, record stores, and more.
There would also be opportunities to tie-in with local food trucks, micro-breweries, coffee shops, plant stores, galleries, and related innovative businesses such as architects, advertising companies, interactive leisure software, computer services and design centers.
Such a grass-roots initiative would provide an organic “ground up” model for growth. This has strong local appeal as opposed to wooing an out-of-town development company to come in and create high-rent modular spaces and then leave the city without an existing infrastructure to take over the daily management and integration of the district into the fabric of Gainesville’s cultural and community life.
The initial stimulus for such an initiative could be provided by formation of an “Gainesville Artist Alliance.” Such an alliance would be ideal entity to to “kick-start” the necessary local momentum.
The development of Depot Park and improvements on Main Street have created an economic stimulus for the city. The same thing can happen if we better utilize the idle and deteriorating Power District Compound.
One example of the overall concept is Tallahassee’s Railroad Square and its evolution from warehouses to Arts District. Leon County passed a quarter cent sales tax to help fund the infrastructure. This tied into Florida State University’s Seminole Boosters development of College Town, a multi-use neighborhood having housing, restaurants, shops, bars and other revenue generating spaces.
There are many examples of similar community revitalization in cities in Florida as well as other states.
The reality is that, over past decades, cities have given way to suburban sprawl and downtowns began to dry up. Now there is a resurgence of efforts to reverse this trend across the country through revitalization projects such as the one we are proposing for the Power District.
Prioritizing the arts in our lives inspires, informs, provokes and entertains. Together, we can create a community dialogue that will bring people together with a shared sense of community ownership.
Let’s Make Downtown Gainesville Work!