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City Commission considers landscaping proposal for City Hall Plaza ponds

The empty plazal pond closest to City Hall. This pond returns everything and it is connected to City Hall basement pumps. (Isabella Mascioli/ WUFT)
The empty plazal pond closest to City Hall. This pond returns everything and it is connected to City Hall basement pumps. (Isabella Mascioli/ WUFT)

https://youtu.be/AuEFKJx2nQU

 

Visitors who once enjoyed the sound of gurgling water coming from the outdoor ponds at Gainesville City Hall Plaza may never hear those sounds again.
The two ponds, now empty, would be replaced with grass and concrete as part of a $35,000 beautification plan under consideration by the city.

City officials said the ponds need to go because they collect leaves and other debris that require regular maintenance. One even grows algae.

“From a sustainability perspective, I think we are at the end of that life span,” said John Weber, the city’s park operations manager.

Gainesville residents who have attended city commission meetings and work nearby have said they are not in favor of the project. This has sparked a passionate debate both during recent commission meetings and by pedestrians walking by the ponds about how to accommodate growth and preservation.

Terry Cohens, 58, of Gainesville, expressed her concern for the neglect that is present in other important matters facing the community. She said she objects to spending taxpayer dollars on beautification when there is still a homeless problem.

“We are spending money to make something better, but then we still have the homelessness issue, so I think it makes this irrelevant,” Cohens said.

Staff from the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs proposed the demolition and rebuilding of the City Hall Plaza ponds. The proposed plans would eliminate the two currently empty water features that are side by side in front of City Hall and replace them with paved pedestrian areas and Florida-friendly landscaped greenspace.

The plan would give the trees outside city hall more room to grow if the commission approves the plan. Additionally, new plants and natural Florida grass would be added.

An extra 2,000 square feet of green space would also be added.

The commission has given staff up to two months to present a final plan for a vote. Work could begin as early as this winter or spring.

If nothing is done, the two ponds would require thousands of dollars in repairs in addition to the expense of ongoing maintenance, according to a recent presentation to the county commission by city experts.

Weber, the park operations manager, said it is very difficult to maintain the ponds.

“Historically, we’ve had a lot of issues with maintaining the ponds because of the leaves and debris,” he said. “The shallow end of the pond closest to City Hall creates algal bloom and we constantly have to clean and vacuum a lot.”

City officials explained that the ponds, along with the current landscape and the presence of the chert stone around the ponds, make the area less accessible.

Officials said the ponds have been empty since 2021 because of a leak in the pump system. Fixing the pump would cost $20,000. Additionally, the city commission is worried ponds could be a liability because people try to swim in them when they are filled with water.

If approved, work could start as soon as this winter or at the start of spring. City commissioners will vote on the proposal in the next two months.

City Commissioner Cynthia Chesnut recommended adding seating to the project.

But some residents argue that adding more seating will attract homeless people rather than create a welcoming place for other residents. Some said other places should be developed for the homeless.

“I see this as an opportunity to create that welcoming vibe,” Chesnut said.

Some residents said they favored creating a special place for homeless residents.

“Build a place for homeless people to be able to go to,” said Gainesville resident, Dominique Webster, 38, a home health aide employee. “You can still build up the city, but the issue is going to remain. When you bring up the seating, they are just going to attract more homelessness presence to this specific area.”

Betsy Waite, The Wild Spaces and Public Spaces director, agreed to the plan because it would create more space for protests, speeches and rallies.

“We want to create, you know, maintain a welcoming space here at City Hall Plaza, at the people’s plaza,” said Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward. You know people use this a lot for speeches and rallies and things, and I wanna make sure it’s the best possible space for that to continue.”

Other residents say the ponds should not be a priority when the city has more pressing needs.

Alexis Webster, a Gainesville resident, voiced her concern on the matter and emphasized the frustration with the priority of other matters over more serious ones.

“It could be done because it would make it look nicer, but it just isn’t a priority,” said Alexis Webster of Gainesville.

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