The original mural that lines the back wall of the stage on the north side of Bo Diddley Plaza has been touched up. The roof has been insulated with acoustical spray foam to limit unneeded echoing during concerts.
The stage’s supporting cast, however, received a much bigger facelift.
The stage, as well as the rest of Bo Diddley Plaza, will be open to the public for the first time in a year on Thursday, when Gainesville native Charles Bradley headlines a free concert as part of frank, a four-day event where public interest advocates and strategic communicators from around the world gather to share their thoughts on driving social change.
Starting at 6 p.m., the concert will serve as a test run of the plaza’s new amenities before the plaza located at 111 E. University Ave. completely reopens on March 1 following a $1.8 million renovation.
“I think it’s going to be like a homecoming,” Bradley wrote in an email through his publicist. “I can’t express it.”
The upgrades made to the plaza were extensive. On either side of the stage stands an informational kiosk and a cafe. The former, located on the corner of East University Avenue and Southeast Third Street, is lined with marquees to tell people what events will be happening each day. The latter, on the northwest side of the park, will serve as a second food location diagonally across the plaza from downtown restaurant Steamers.
In front, the space is clear, a wide realm of grass and open space for families, friends and community members to sprawl out and enjoy the entertainment surrounding them.
Behind it, a four-panel waterwall backdropped by 250 multicolored and programmable LED lights faces north toward University Avenue, inviting passers-by in with an array of colorful lights that can change depending on the event. The north side of the plaza has also been extended up to the sidewalk on University Avenue, adding about 2,500 square feet to the plaza. The bus stop that was originally there has been moved slightly east.
“I think the City of Gainesville is going to be pretty excited to have its plaza back,” Nathalie McCrate, a project manager with the City of Gainesville’s Community Redevelopment Agency, said Tuesday. “… [The renovations] are really going to take things to the next level.”
The stage and the area surrounding it was not the only improvement made on the plaza during the 12-month renovation.
The green room where artists get ready before performing has been expanded to give performers additional space.
The transformers that provide electricity to the plaza received a makeover courtesy of local artist Shawn Maschino after the City of Gainesville granted the redevelopment agency approval to paint over them.
Six additional security cameras have been placed throughout the plaza that will be monitored and controlled by the Gainesville Police Department.
“One of the problems with the plaza from a design standpoint (prior to the renovation) is that it was surrounded by a lot of dead space and that encouraged a lot of behavior that was either criminal or not desirable,” McCrate said, “so by having a second restaurant here, having more eyes on the street, having the welcoming booth, having better lighting, the plaza just feels safer and more accessible.”
While McCrate acknowledged that there was a problem in the past with homeless people at the plaza prior to renovation, she said the plaza’s purpose is to invite people in, not make them feel excluded.
McCrate added that with the development of places in Gainesville such as GRACE Marketplace, there are other locations for homeless people to get the resources they need.
“There’s a lot more centralized services to serve the homeless population,” McCrate said.
Sarah Vidal-Finn, the interim director for the Community Redevelopment Agency, said at a meeting on Feb. 15 that while there are still some minor kinks that need to be addressed before the plaza completely reopens to the public, she is happy with the results.
“This is really the heart of our downtown,” Vidal-Finn said.