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Midtown Makeover: Development Plan To Replace Swamp, Post Office With Apartments

The Swamp Restaurant is among the many well-known businesses to be demolished ahead of the new Midtown development plan. Swamp could potentially exist in a new iteration as part of the new high-rise complex, but the current building is set to be leveled. (Jacob Berkowitz/WUFT News)
The Swamp Restaurant is among the many well-known businesses to be demolished ahead of the new Midtown development plan. Swamp could potentially exist in a new iteration as part of the new high-rise complex, but the current building is set to be leveled. (Jacob Berkowitz/WUFT News)

Swirling rumors of Midtown’s demise in Gainesville may have been overblown over the last couple of months, but major changes will be coming on University Avenue as soon as January 2020.

In a community workshop held at the Holiday Inn Ballroom Tuesday, developers confirmed that the land from The Swamp Restaurant and the Post Office on Northwest 17th Street, ending at the old Florida Bookstore building and Pascal’s Coffeehouse, will be turned into new midrise apartments once the businesses' leases are up.

Some of the businesses to be demolished and replaced will be Swamp, Grill Fresh, Larry's Giant Subs, Style Cuts and the Post Office, among several others. The building that previously held Florida Bookstore will be unaffected, which is also true for Pascal's Coffeehouse.

The new apartment complex will likely feature around 200 apartments (fitting 600 students) with space allocated for retail, restaurants, leasing office, clubhouse and around 200 parking spots (plus 60 to 70 scooter spots).

The northern building will be four stories wrapped around a parking garage and the southern building will be six stories with ground-level parking and space for retail and restaurants on the first floor.

Brad Wolfe, the director of development of 908 Group, the student-housing developer seeking to construct the new apartment complex, said there have been active talks with current tenants, namely Swamp, to potentially be a part of the complex’s restaurant and retail space.

"One thing that we're doing, along with demolition, is speaking with each tenant and talking with them if they're interested in leasing back our first floor," he said.

Though it is a potential opportunity to grow a business in a "Grade A" building with "much nicer space," Wolfe said leases would probably be more expensive for the tenants than it was before the demolition.

The new apartments will be geared toward students with an emphasis on safety and proximity to the University of Florida.

"Safety and walkability is really our number one concern," he said.

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908 Group has already developed an apartment complex geared toward students called The Nine at Gainesville, as well as complexes in other college towns, which he said has helped prepare them for the new project.

Wolfe also said the new complex will "be looking a lot better" than The Standard, oft-complained about by longtime Gainesville residents, but it will have similar pricing.

As far as any more Midtown development projects are concerned, such as the bars and restaurants across Northwest 17th St., 908 Group does not have anything in the works.

"We don't have any plans for another project," Wolfe said.

The developers called the meeting due to city requirements that development plan and Special Use Permit (SUP) applicants to host a neighborhood workshop to inform neighbors of the proposed development’s nature.

They have submitted a SUP to allow certain parts of their proposed development plan, specifically U8 zoning plots, to increase density from 60 to 80 units per acre. This would allow them to construct more apartment units in the new apartment complex. U5 plots are limited to 75 units per acre.

"This is right across the street from one of the main attractions, one of the main drivers in the core of the city. In my opinion, this is exactly where increased density should be," said Craig Brashier, Director of Planning for CHW Professional Consultants, the civil engineering firm working on the Midtown development project.

Brashier said the SUP will be submitted next week, which would kick off the process of a City Plan Board public hearing in either June or July. Then they will submit a development plan, which would be reviewed from August 2019 to March 2020, but could end earlier.

The developers estimate a January 2020 start date for the project, which would allow for their desired opening date of August 2021.

While some of the more affluent students may enjoy the complex when it's built, some people at the meeting were unsatisfied with the plan. Melanie Barr, a historic preservation consultant, is not happy that historically significant buildings and businesses are being torn down in favor of high-rise apartments.

"We are losing the character of Gainesville," she said.

Barr knows the buildings being demolished are not part of the National Register of Historic Places, but she said they have still have real significance to local history.

"People enjoy coming back to Gainesville and seeing the places they used to go," she said.

Even if the developers come to an agreement with a place like the Swamp's owners and open up a new one, it would be the Swamp "only in name," Barr said.

Jacob is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.