Bo Diddley Plaza To Reopen In March

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Banners hang on the fence that surrounds Bo Diddley Plaza in downtown Gainesville while the plaza is closed for renovations. It will reopen to the public on March 1, one year after the $1.8 million renovations began. Photo By Jordan McPherson// WUFT News
Banners hang on the fence that surrounds Bo Diddley Plaza in downtown Gainesville while the plaza is closed for renovations. It will reopen to the public on March 1, one year after the $1.8 million renovations began. (Photo By Jordan McPherson/ WUFT News)

Dozens of banners hang on the fences that line Bo Diddley Plaza in downtown Gainesville.

In bright red capital letters, one reads, “We’re not closed, just in between sets.”

The yearlong intermission is nearing its completion.

Located at 111 E. University Ave., across from City Hall, the plaza’s $1.8 million renovation is expected to be completed in the coming weeks. It is set to reopen to the public on March 1, Malcolm Kiner, a project manager, said at a board meeting for the City of Gainesville’s Community Redevelopment Agency on Monday. There will be a grand reopening event on March 10 at 9 a.m.

The public plaza serves as a place for concerts and festivals, as well as being an open area for people to enjoy a breath of fresh air.

It is known for hosting a number of events including the weekly Union Street Farmers Market, the annual Fest concert and Pride Parade and Festival.

Sarah Vidal-Finn, the interim director for the Community Redevelopment Agency, called the plaza the heart of Gainesville’s downtown. She said the agency worked to ensure that the changes reflected that.

Among the new amenities are a water wall-style fountain facing University Avenue, which is backdropped by programmable multicolored LED lights to add an extra dimension to any event held on the plaza; a cafe on the north side of the plaza to complement Steamers, which sits on the opposite side of the park; and an informational kiosk on the northwest corner.

“To call this a project would be really oversimplifying it,” Vidal-Finn said. “This has been a community endeavor which started many, many years ago.”

In addition to landscape and architectural upgrades to the plaza, Kiner said the CRA also plans to introduce new signage to the area. Lined with a rainbow border, the signs will help emphasize the changes that have been made over the past year.

“Enjoy the show not the smoke,” reads one of the signs that was shown in the presentation at Monday’s meeting, as an effort to reduce smoking on the plaza.

The plaza will also feature improved security cameras run by the Gainesville Police Department.

“We’ve been working with GPD since day one to increase security on the plaza and make sure it feels family-friendly all the time,” said Nathalie McCrate, a project manager at the CRA.

GPD spokesman Officer Ben Tobias wrote in an email that there are a total of eight cameras throughout Bo Diddley Plaza that have the ability to pan, rotate and zoom. Before the renovation there were only two cameras monitoring the plaza.

The cameras are similar to traffic cameras and have a 24/7 live feed that can be utilized at any time, but Tobias said there will not be a person designated to watching the cameras at all times.

“They are not intended to be routinely monitored, as the officers have other duties to perform,” Tobias wrote.

On Feb. 25, five days before the plaza reopens to the public, the plaza will host a concert for 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. The plaza closed for renovations last March following a concert by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band as part of frank.

Gainesville native and soul singer Charles Bradley will headline the free concert, which starts at 6 p.m. and is open to the public.

“We think this will be a great opportunity to test the site and look at how the site works now,” Kiner said.

Union Street Farmers Market director Charlie Lybrand said the market will return to Bo Diddley Plaza starting on March 2 after being there for seven years prior to the renovations.

For the past 12 months, the weekly farmers market has been held at City Lot 10, located on the corner of Southwest First Avenue and Southwest First Street, three blocks away from Bo Diddley Plaza.

Lybrand said that due to the smaller size of the lot, the market had about five or six fewer vendors each week during the renovations, but added that an attendance dropoff was minimal at most.

He said he’s looking forward to the farmers market returning to Bo Diddley Plaza because the open area, including the stage, is beneficial for families with children who like to peruse what the market has to offer.

“I think the improvements have definitely made it nicer,” said Lybrand, who has overseen the farmers market since it began in April 1996. “It’s a lot cleaner now. It’s a good place for the market.”

About Jordan McPherson

Jordan is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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