Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward highlighted Gainesville’s strategic goals and vision for a more equitable and inclusive community Tuesday morning.
The 2023 State of the City Address took place at the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention. During this annual keynote, Ward reflected on accomplishments in 2022 related to housing programs, the local economy, sustainability efforts, neighborhood services, and inclusivity.
Ward also offered insight on community plans in store for 2023.
“We are moving forward more steadily here in Gainesville because of the quality of our community, the dedication of our partners, and the good ideas and participation of our neighbors,” said Ward.
The six City Commissioners and six Charter officers who were seated nearby were each recognized for their work and their desire to serve the Gainesville community and make it stronger.
Also at the event were student government officers from local high schools who were in attendance to gain insight into current issues in their community. Isabella Acuña, 16, a student at P.K. Yonge, was one of the high school students present. She said the address made her more aware of what is to come in the city.
“We are the future of Gainesville and seeing what we can do is important,” said Acuña.
To start off the address, City Commissioner Reina Saco touched on how Gainesville is moving toward a more equitable community. Successes include the introduction of a phone translation line where an individual can call any city department and an interpreter who speaks their language is available free of cost. The Gainesville Police Department also has certified bilingual interpreters who can respond to a scene when necessary.
“We want to make sure that everyone has the ability to live and thrive in Gainesville,” said Saco.
Gainesville has also been working toward helping low-income families achieve home ownership, said Saco. To reduce the shortage of affordable housing, the city has donated 11 vacant lots in the Duval community to Alachua County Habitat for Humanity, and two families have already moved into these homes. The Heirs’ Property Assistance Program offers free probate legal assistance to individuals who live within the Gainesville Community Reinvestment Area. The program has provided 39 neighborhoods in 2022 with assistance with their properties.
“The shortage of affordable housing has only worsened the problem of homelessness. We are determined to help and support our neighbors without a roof over their head,” said Ward.
GRACE Marketplace is a homeless resource center in Gainesville that works toward ending homelessness in the community. In 2022, GRACE helped end homelessness for 429 people and works every day to combat this issue.
Moving forward, voter approval of the Alachua County Wild Spaces & Public Places, a one-half percent sales tax to be collected in the county from Jan. 1, 2023 to Dec. 3, 2032, will be used to acquire and improve land conservation, wildlife habitat, water quality, recreation, and to operate and maintain parks and recreation facilities.
Wild Spaces & Public Places funds were used to reopen the Clarence R. Kelly Center in June, renovate the Albert “Ray” Massey Park and H. Spurgeon Cherry Pool and restore the Hogtown Creek Headwaters Nature Center.
City Commissioner Casey Willits talked about plans to regrade soccer fields, rebuild volleyball pits, add dog parks and floodlights to extend the hours of sports fields in Southwest Gainesville and Forest Park.
“With Wild Spaces & Public Places funding, we have the opportunity to renovate, rejuvenate and even build new parks for Gainesville,” said Willits.
Other transformations are also occurring on the east side of Gainesville. City Commissioner Cynthia Moore Chestnut is spearheading efforts to bring back a new and revised Citizens Field.
Commissioner Chestnut talked about adding a press room, a locker room, a new concession stand, the addition of a track around the field and a whole new field for the community. Additionally, efforts are being made to double the size of the MLK Multipurpose Center to allow for extra room for community events and sports.
Ward also addressed plans to combat the increased number of traffic accidents in the community. With the support from the Biden administration, the city was awarded $8 million to help rebuild the most heavily traveled four miles down University Avenue allowing for slower traffic and more sidewalks.
“We couldn’t be more appreciative for this much-needed funding. While this is just the start, it’s a big start. It gets us moving faster than we ever could have done otherwise,” said Ward.
Efforts to become a more sustainable community are in the works in Gainesville as well. With Gainesville Regional Utilities as the state leader in power generation from renewable fuel sources, Gainesville is committed to becoming a net zero-community-wide greenhouse gas emission by 2045. To achieve this the commission approved three new zero-waste ordinances in June 2022: limit the dispensing of single-use plastic items, require recycle bins for the collection of bottles and cans, and a ban on the intentional release of plastic glitter and confetti.
To share the progress that Gainesville is working on and has been making, ThriveGNV.com provides updated numbers on issues that are important to the community along with historical context. This allows members of the Gainesville community to see how the numbers compare to neighboring cities on a variety of issues.
At the closing of the State of the City Address, Ward recognized Barzella Papa, the president and CEO of Community Foundation of North Central Florida, for all of her distributions and help in the community. Papa has been CEO for almost 17 years, and her company’s initiative is to promote and sustain philanthropy in North Central Florida. She has awarded more than $40 million to the Gainesville community and Ward recognized Feb. 14, 2023 as the Community Foundation of North Central Florida Day in her honor.
While reflecting on the successes Gainesville had in 2022, Ward said he looks forward to the exciting plans and renovations in store for the community and residents in 2023.
“We shy away from celebrating our everyday wins. I want us to recognize the days where we get it right. I want us to get better at celebrating each other and spend a little more time with victory laps about the things that bring us together,” said Ward.