The Bo is back.
After one year and $1.8 million in renovations, Bo Diddley Plaza in downtown Gainesville officially re-opened Thursday.
The renovations were made to improve safety, visibility and accessibility on the plaza, according to the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Center’s website. The design includes three additions to the North Side: a green room behind the stage with a waterwall feature facing University Avenue, a cafe on the northeast corner and an information kiosk on the northwest corner.
Nathalie McCrate, project manager of Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency, said the she worked closely with the Gainesville Police Department to eliminate dark corners on the plaza.
“We lowered the size of the planter beds so you could see into them better,” she said. “We added better and brighter lighting, and there are more security cameras on the plaza.”
McCrate said while safety is a priority, the new park is an inclusive environment.
“The goal isn’t to exclude anyone,” McCrate said. “It’s to exclude behaviors that are unsafe. But everyone’s welcome, and we want everyone to enjoy the plaza.”
Evelyn Cooper came to the ribbon-cutting ceremony to honor her father and speak about his legacy to those in attendance.
“He drew people of all kinds,” Cooper said to the crowd. “He never turned away one person. He brought them home from near and far. After James Brown passed, he looked at us and said, ‘You’d better do better than that for me when I leave here,’ he said, ‘because I gave to mankind in money and love.'”
Diddley lived the last years of his life in Archer, Florida, near Gainesville. He performed at the plaza numerous times when it was still the Downtown Community Plaza, the last time being in 2006.
Gainesville Mayor Ed Braddy was one of six speakers at the ceremony; all of whom spoke with respect and admiration about Bo Diddley.
“I didn’t know him personally,” Braddy said. “I didn’t meet him, but I had the pleasure of hearing him play one night. I actually went right over to one of our midtown places, and it was in his later years. And he could still hit the riffs like you wouldn’t believe.”
The spirit of innovation is strong in Gainesville, Braddy said, and Bo Diddley was someone Gainesville could proudly remember as an innovator in music.
“He took the blues that had a century of sound behind it and made it different,” the mayor said. “He was cutting-edge. So Gainesville can rightly lay claim to many entrepreneurs in social and cultural arts. But we have one of the founding fathers of musical entrepreneurship, and that’s Mr. Bo Diddley. We should all be proud of that.”
Echoing the spirit of Bo Diddley, interim City Manager Anthony Lyons noted the inspiration he receives from Gainesville’s vast cultural and city life.
“In recent years, it became apparent that the downtown area was in dire need of recondition, so we went to work to spruce up this place like you see before us,” Lyons said about the plaza. “But it’s really the people that make this place wonderful.”
Gainesville’s District 1 commissioner, Charles Goston, said he was attending the ceremony as both a representative of the community and jazz lover, having owned a jazz cable station. He also honored Bo Diddley and spoke passionately about meeting him.
“Even though I’ve done a lot in the music industry and communications industry, I still was humbled when I had an accidental meeting with him coming out of a music store,” Goston said. “Bo Diddley was a person that you had to humble yourself to. He was a great man.”
Goston said the beauty of the plaza, especially at night, brings hope to Gainesville in the same way Diddley gave him hope and inspiration.
“The daylight doesn’t really do [the plaza] justice,” Goston said. “If you come out at night, you can see 250 different programmable LED light combinations. They can even turn orange and blue for Gator football season.”