The Alachua County Commission and the Gainesville City Commission held a joint meeting Monday to discuss potential development ideas for the Cabot-Koppers Superfund site and the Eighth Avenue and Waldo corridor, but no plans were approved.
The three-hour discussion focused on a range of possibilities, including a festival park, a new home for the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire and even a training facility for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. However, both commissions agreed that they were not ready to move forward just yet.
Several commissioners expressed concerns about not knowing the full potential cost, the impact upon the surrounding neighborhoods and who would have oversight over the project long term.
City Commissioner Gail Johnson attributed her hesitation to a “lack of structure” in the decision-making process. Johnson added: “I’m not really sure why we’re here. I prefer coming to a meeting with some specific kind of decision points so we know what we’re talking about.”
Cabot-Koppers is a 140-acre lot located on Northwest 23rd Avenue that was designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a Superfund site. It remains under active remediation for groundwater and soil contamination.
The Eighth Avenue and Waldo corridor is a 41-acre property located near Citizen’s Park, which houses the Citizen’s Park Stadium and Citizen’s Park Multi-Purpose Fields.
Assistant City Manager Dan Hoffman said the commission’s failure to make a decision would give staff additional time to develop something more tangible and do a complete study.
“We hear different suggestions all the time,” Hoffman told the commissions. “It’s a matter of getting more specificity.”
County Manager Michelle Lieberman said the county’s consulting firm, Victus Advisors, would seek more information on whether the proposals would spur economic development.
City Commissioner David Arreola said the commissions are putting much effort into these projects because they want to “reverse the trend of nothing happening.”
Arreola added, “I have a lot of confidence that this is going through rigorous consideration.”
One suggestion discussed during the meeting was creating a subcommittee that would focus on the proposals. The mayor would have appointed three city commissioners to serve alongside two county commissioners. However, a majority vote rejected that idea.
Arreola voiced his opposition, saying there needs to be clear expectations for the subcommittee’s duties. He said, though, that he is open to revisiting the idea in the future.
The commissioners were not the only ones with hesitation over the suggested projects.
Former Gainesville Mayor Mark Goldstein shared his concerns about environmental implications. The development of new projects in these areas could jeopardize one of the city’s most vital resources, the local recycling center, he said.
“The largest paper recycling center in the South is there,” Goldstein said, “and we have no other alternatives.”
Sharon Bauer, president of Northeast Neighbors of Gainesville, said the proposed developments would be “a disaster for the Duck Pond area.”
Bauer also said putting an event center near the historic neighborhood would mean an increase in noise and a decrease in available parking for residents who rely on street parking.
“We’ve been expressing our opposition to this for months,” she said.
Robert Pearce, who has lived in the Stephen-Foster neighborhood, near Cabot-Koppers, for more than 12 years and has been president of its neighborhood association for 10 years, said the Superfund site would best suit the community as an activity center.
In February 2018, a group of graduate students at the University of Florida shared several scenarios for the Superfund site with the Gainesville City Commission. Their presentation included a food district, an arts district or even an innovation district with a place for a green technology center.
After the meeting Monday, one of the students, Mariana Arias Sanz, who graduated with a master’s degree in urban and regional planning in 2018, told WUFT News that she still believes the site has much more potential to function as a daily activity center.
“This could be a major destination,” Arias Sanz said.
The next joint commission meeting was scheduled for Sept. 3. Members of both commissions are hoping they will have some more answers after the summer break.
“Today’s discussion is spinning its wheels,” County Commissioner Mike Byerly said. “If we find ourselves unable to pay for the expectations we’ve given to the public, we’re failing.”
Correction appended: A previous version of the top image’s caption incorrectly identified Gainesville City Commissioner Harvey Ward as Harvey Budd.