Hardware store owner Eberly Baird built his warehouse on South Main Street in 1910 because that’s where the railroad was.

The railroad and Baird’s Hardware are long gone. But the warehouse complex that Baird built is enjoying a renaissance.

Renowned South Main Stationhe houses Heartwood Soundstage, two restaurants and a farmer’s market on Thursdays. There are plans for a brewery and possibly a large food court.

So what’s the common denominator between Baird’s former hardware empire and South Main Station?

In a word, infrastructure.

The railroads made Gainesville a prosperous town and enabled entrepreneurs like Baird to build successful businesses.

Similarly, the new success of the former Baird complex owes much to years of strategic public investment from South Main, complementary to ratepayers.

Cyclists pass the Cade Museum in Depot Park.

The city has turned a contaminated “brownfield” into Gainesville’s most popular park. He has developed a system of trails and greenways that converge on this park. And he redesigned South Main Street and Depot Avenue to slow cars and invite more pedestrians and cyclists.

“Depot Park and the Cade were a game changer for us,” said Hoch Shitama, owner of South Main Station.

Public investment leads to private opportunities.

And not just on South Main. The city literally paved the way for Innovation Square with major street and drainage improvements. Porters got a facelift with a rebuilt Southwest Third Street. Fifth Avenue and Pleasant Street gained new vitality through similar improvements. Downtown and University Avenue have benefited from streetscapes, facade grants, improved street lighting, stormwater upgrades and more.

Residents explore the park and roads of Innovation Square during an event celebrating their opening in 2014.

Most of the improvements that made the urban core of Gainesville a better place to live, work, and do business were funded by Community Redevelopment Agency districts funded through tax increases created for College Park/University Avenue , Downtown, Eastside and Fifth Avenue / Pleasant Street.

For the remainder of this decade, Gainesville will receive approximately $7 million per year, or less, in ARC funding. The lion’s share will likely go to East Gainesville.

After that, the ARC money goes.

More from Ron Cunningham:

The next majority of the Gainesville City Commission could be just as progressive as the current one

A Gainesville mainstay since 1980, Acrosstown Repertory Theater faces the final call

We need to rethink the Power District – and this time keep it local

“A dedicated source of funding that can only be used for specific activities and areas can really have a huge impact,” said Mayor Lauren Poe. “If you watch the ARC funding disappear, we won’t be able to do big transformational projects anymore. »

So what are the odds that by 2030 Gainesville will have made all the necessary infrastructure upgrades to support the economic, residential, and quality-of-life improvements we’ll need for the rest of…oh, I don’t don’t know… always?

Listen, the new downtown strategic plan provides millions of dollars for streets, sidewalks and other improvements. And turning the former Gainesville Regional Utilities wasteland into a Power District success story won’t come cheap.

One of the decaying buildings between downtown Gainesville and Depot Park that is proposed to be redeveloped as the Power District.

Figuring out how to invest for Gainesville’s future is the “biggest question there,” Poe said. And it is “up to the next commission to decide what happens”.

This is a conversation that needs to happen as soon as possible. We’ll have a new mayor and a commission majority, and if they can’t find the time to talk about funding Gainesville’s future after the election, waiting until 2030 will be too late.

Gainesville will have to get creative. Does downtown need a business improvement district? Can public-private partnerships move Gainesville forward? Is the answer a local option sales tax? Impact fee?

Ron Cunningham, columnist at the Gainesville Sun

Public investment leads to private opportunities. ARC investments have proven that time and time again. But what happens after the ARC leaves?

Ron Cunningham is the former editor of The Sun’s editorial page. Read his blog at www.floridavelocipede.com. Email him at [email protected].

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