Gainesville City Commissioner Charles Goston has lived in the Sugarhill neighborhood of east Gainesville for about 18 years.
He believes it’s past time for the area to have more places to buy food and eat food.
Goston, who represents District 1, and Mayor Ed Braddy recently met with representatives from Publix and Golden Corral, in hopes the Florida Enterprise Zone Program will provide tax incentives for those businesses to open in east Gainesville.
“I know that my district needs all the help it can get. They deserve it,” Goston said. “They’ve waited over 40 years for a change.”
In contrast to the nearly 24 grocery stores in west Gainesville, there are only two full-service grocery stores east of Waldo Road and Southwest Hawthorne Road in East Gainesville.
The dearth of supermarkets has led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to categorize the area as a food desert, or a “neighborhood or rural town without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.”
Many areas east of Main Street are low-income, both urban and rural. The USDA designates an area as a food desert if it is at least one mile from a supermarket (rural areas are at least 10 miles).
More help may be coming from the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency. It has approved a plan to add up to 10 mixed-use commercial buildings to the Gainesville Technology Entrepreneurship Center (GTEC) area.
“The vision for the GTEC site is to offer some of those amenities people on the east side are asking for,” said Nathalie McCrate, project manager for the agency.
Those amenities include restaurants, coffee shops and other commercial stores, McCrate said.
GTEC, located at 2153 SE Hawthorne Road, a business incubator owned by the City of Gainesville and managed by Santa Fe College, is designed to help startups grow.
Community members can weigh in on determining an identity for the new buildings at a marketing workshop Sept. 30 at the Springhill Missionary Baptist Church at 5:30 p.m., McCrate said.
McCrate said the CRA also renovated the building that Southern Charm Kitchen currently occupies, and “they’ve been really successful in that spot.”
Omar Oselimo, a co-owner of Southern Charm, said he wanted to make his restaurant a “destination spot.” He wanted to attract people from all over Gainesville to the Southern soul-food inspired restaurant.
The magnet-effect brings money into the east side, he said. Southern Charm opened in 2012, and since, “the restaurant has outperformed what I ever thought,” Oselimo said.
“I think there’s still a long way to go … for revitalizing east Gainesville,” he said. “My hope is that it (Southern Charm) attracts other restaurants and businesses to the area.”
The way Goston sees it, restaurants such as Southern Charm, as well as supermarkets, are overdue in east Gainesville.
“All our people can have all the same amenities and shopping opportunities without taking their money to the west,” he said.