Jim McMahon casually sat down on a fold-up table. Behind him were several blueprints and design plans for Big Oak Plaza and Condominiums plastered on the wall.
With enthusiasm, he greeted the 10 or so attendees at a “neighborhood workshop” on Saturday at the MLK Recreation Center. They were curious to hear the specifics of a new plan for a deserted property in Gainesville: the former Oak Park Executive Center.
McMahon, the meeting coordinator, works for American East Hospitality LLC – the building’s owner since June 2018.
Located at 2002 NW 13th St., a few blocks north of Gainesville High School, the 4-story building once housed office facilities. It sits on 3.9 acres of land, two tax parcels and has 180 parking spaces.
The building has been abandoned for the better part of the past decade without clear plans of its new direction, according to McMahon.
The proposed plan calls for a plaza and a total of 72 condominium units: 30 in the existing building and 42 in an adjacent building. The units would be on the second, third and fourth floors.
Ormond Beach-based American East Hospitality LLC had reached out to McMahon to help work on this plan, and they had an initial planning meeting with the City of Gainesville about five months ago.
According to McMahon, they will use only 30% of the allotment – a fraction of what they could use — and build upon what’s already there.
“Our philosophy is that we want to build with what we’re given, not just rip apart and start over,” McMahon said. “And being next to the high school, this will enhance property values with hip, trendy and cool units.”
Stanley Hoelle is the building’s architect. He said he’s been working on the design for seven months now and had designed two previous ones.
Hoelle estimates the building will cost $10 million and would take approximately one year to complete. If they succeed, this would be American East Hospitality LLC’s first condominium complex.
“The design will have minimal impact, be upscale, while still being economically viable,” McMahon said.
According to Hoelle, the building was originally going to become a hotel or an assisted living facility. But Hoelle said this is the best use for the building because it will help fix the city’s issue of too many students and not enough housing.
McMahon said there will be a lot of amenities. On the first floor, there will be a gym and yoga space. The rooftop would include a pool, sun deck and grill with canopies in the corner.
Hoelle said they made a lot of decisions that would attract affluent university students.
“That’s why there’s a lot of amenities such as pool tables, a gym and so forth,” Hoelle said. “The rooftop, I think, is the cherry on top. With a splash pool, it’s the perfect spot for game days.”
Sheila Ginsberg had sent emails to City Commissioner Harvey Ward throughout 2018 inquiring about the building’s future. Ginsberg is a resident who has lived in a house just north of the abandoned building for the past 14 years.
“We were joking with each other that we wanted to move into these condos,” Ginsberg said.
Various commercial vendors will occupy the ground floor of the front unit. Proposed businesses include nail shops, beauty salons, boutique stores and coffee shops. No big restaurants are planned there because of the parking requirements, Hoelle said.
Each unit, McMahon said, will have its own parking space, along with scooter parking and bicycle racks.
“Honestly, the biggest complaints will be high school students trying to park in those spots,” Jack Ryals said. Ryals is a resident who owns property next to Gainesville High School. He works for Jackson Stoneworks Company, a Gainesville granite countertop business.
Some of the biggest concerns for the neighboring residents were parking, traffic, green space and removal of trees in the area.
Trish Riley, another attendee, said that she thinks this plan will be good for the neighborhood.
“My biggest concern was green space,” Riley said. She’s the director of a local environmental film festival. “There’s a lot of wildlife there, and it’s important to preserve that.”
McMahon and Hoelle assured them that they will try to accommodate the neighbors and are not planning to cut down any trees or otherwise limit the existing green space.
In fact, the plan suggests adding more green space along most of the perimeter, McMahon said. Therefore, there will be zero wetland impact – a fact that was well-received by the attendees.
“We were most worried about the trees being cut down,” Ginsberg said. “So, this is good news for us.”
McMahon said they’ve proposed the plan to the city, and it’s in the “intermediate phase.”
One of the biggest concerns for the city engineer is stormwater, since that issue took up 70% of their last meeting, he said.
Another concern for the city: how it will affect traffic. McMahon said the traffic impact will be 5 to 10% less than the previous office spaces because there will be two entrances.
McMahon said there are few obstacles since it’s a plan that’s compatible with the neighborhood. He said the city wants an urban feel right along NW 13th Street.
McMahon hopes to see a Gainesville-based business entrepreneur either jointly venture or take over the project entirely. If that doesn’t happen within a year, he said they will continue to move forward.
After about an hour and a half, McMahon wrapped up the meeting by answering any additional questions the residents asked. One attendee was so eager to obtain a copy of the design plans that McMahon ripped off the largest blueprint that was on the wall and gave it to him.