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GNV votes to divide power district, prep for bids

Jun 07, 2023

The Gainesville City Commission voted on Thursday to divide the power district into parcels to prepare for bids and, the city hopes, new life through organic development.

The motion, made by Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut, also authorized city staff to transfer $363,000 in power district funds to support the creation of a downtown strategic plan. The motion passed unanimously.

The power district lies northeast of Depot Park and consists of around 24 acres controlled by Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU). The site contains buildings no longer in use by the utility along with a couple buildings still used for storage.

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"Our primary interest is obtaining the value out of the land not to put any more funds into it," GRU General Manager Tony Cunningham said.

However, the city is constrained by House Bill 1645 that the Legislature passed in May. The bill transfers management control of GRU and its assets to a new authority board to be created by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

While the governor has yet to sign the bill, the City Commission expects he will support the Republican-led effort to pass HB 1645. The bill contains a clause that gives the new authority control over all assets held by GRU as of Jan. 1, 2023.

State Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, said the clause prevents a transfer of assets to the general government side of the city of Gainesville. He added that the clause could trap the sale of GRU's trunked radio system to Alachua County. Both governments signed off on the agreement earlier this year.

In March, the City Commission asked for updated appraisals for the power district. GRU staff told the commission that demolishing the buildings is the highest and best use according to the appraiser, with one building having a renovate option.

GRU gave appraisals for each proposed parcel, and the amounts add up to $8,550,000 for the majority of the power district. GRU's administration building and parking lot were added to the power district in 2019 and appraised, totaling $14.3 million.

The Catalyst Building also lies on the site. The city invested $2.25 million to renovate that building in 2013 and currently rents out the space to a local company.

The city has considered renovating the area for several years, creating a master plan in 2013 with community feedback. Gainesville sent an invitation to negotiate and started talks with a company to manage the property during a transition to retail, residences and other opportunities, but the talks never ended in a contract.

Mayor Harvey Ward added the power district to a list of 15 priority items, and financial pressure added urgency to the conversation.

With control likely falling to the new authority, the city can only prep to request bids and potential sale and see if the new authority agrees. If so, the land will already be parceled for the next step.

City staff also presented a map for potential zoning of the power district, including a range from one-story to six-story buildings. But the commission decided not to act on the zoning for now.

Commissioners supported maintaining the Sweetwater Trail that runs through the power district and toward Depot Park.

Seth Johnson is a Mainstreet Daily News reporter based in Gainesville. He earned a degree in journalism and mass communication and served as editor-in-chief of his school newspaper. Seth is a bookworm and chess nerd, but he tempers these activities by playing sports and biking.

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If they hadn't been distracted by national and global politics for last 15 years, the power district would have been redeveloped by now. Now, the new state law on GRU board will delay it longer. Priorities 🧐🤔