December 2018 Featured Carousel Features

Destination South Main CRA Working to Unleash Area’s Potential

Written By: Chris Eversole

Gainesville’s South Main Street has been anything but a main destination over the years.

That’s not to say it’s been unimportant. In fact, longtime industrial and service businesses have thrived, including Ridgway Roof Truss Co., Continental Imports, Graybar Electric Supply and Vulcan Materials Co. – a stone, sand and gravel distributor. New occupants include Depot Park, Solano Cycles, the Gainesville Fine Arts Association, Liquid Creative and the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention.

South Main is no longer overlooked, as the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency completes road, parking and landscaping improvements.

“We’re improving the area to make it a safer, more accessible community asset while accomodating existing businesses and strengthening their presence,” said CRA Director Sarah Vidal-Finn.

The work will unleash the hidden potential of the area – from Depot Avenue south to S.W. 16th Avenue.

“I’ve always been hot on South Main,” said Dave Ferro, the managing broker with Watson Realty in Gainesville. “I love that it’s close to the health complex – the VA Medical Center, UF Health – and to the University of Florida.”

The CRA has branded the area Destination South Main Street, representing the hope of attracting retail, residential and office projects.

“Investing in South Main will be money in the bank to locate there,” Ferro said.

The improvements overcome South Main’s big drawback – its expansive width hasn’t been pedestrian friendly and there was no sense of place. The improvements include:

  • A roundabout featuring a large Florida-grown live oak
  • Landscaped medians and planters
  • Decorative street lights, expanded sidewalks and on-street parking

Other improvements include benches, a water-bottle filling station, a bike repair station and decorative crosswalks. Flashing beacons alert drivers to yield to pedestrians and bicyclists traveling the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail.

“The CRA staff selected the tree to celebrate Destination South Main Street and serve as an iconic gateway feature to the area,” said CRA project manager Andrew Meeker.

Stakeholders Optimistic

The Cade Museum was attracted by the area’s affordability, said co-founder Richard Miles.

Miles and his wife, Phoebe, found a comrade in Anthony Lyons when they were looking for a home for the museum, which is named after Phoebe’s father, Dr. Robert Cade, the inventor of Gatorade.

Lyons, who is now the Gainesville city manager, was the CRA’s executive director at the time. The CRA was planning the massive undertaking of developing Depot Park.

“Anthony was one of the first people to encourage us,” Richard Miles said. “He told us things that we wouldn’t have known otherwise, and he developed a lease of city land to us.”

Depot Park opened in 2016, and the Cade opened in May 2017.

“The park is finally realizing its potential, and it draws people to the area,” Miles said. “We needed the park, and it needed us. Things have turned out better than we expected.”

Karen Koegel, the president of the Gainesville Fine Arts Association, is excited about the improvements. GAFA moved into a building owned by State Sen. Keith Perry at 1314 S. Main Street because it was affordable.

But the location, three blocks north of S.W. 16th Avenue, doesn’t attract anyone who doesn’t know it’s there, Koegel said.

“We’ve been at the dump end of the dump street,” she said.

The improvements will create visibility for GFAA’s gallery, presentations and workshops, Koegel said.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity. Instead of traffic zipping by, people will see us,” she said. “South Main eventually will be the perfect place to be.”

Longtime Businesses Prosper

Continental Imports and Ridgway Roof Truss are two businesses that have thrived on South Main Street over multiple decades.

Walter Bodendorf and Steve Brotherton started Continental Imports at 1701 S. Main St. in 1978. At the time, Gainesville didn’t have an independent German car specialty shop and the market was there, the company website states.

“Being on the daily route of many working Gainesville commuters, word spread, and the business prospered,” it notes.

In 1990, the business purchased most of the 1200 block of South Main Street, which it renovated to be the current shop, which includes 25 bays.

Walter died in 2006. His wife, Hannelore, and Steve and his wife, Lin, formed a partnership. Walter’s daughter, Heidi, also was part of the management team.

In 2014, Steve sold his interest in the business
to Heidi and her husband, Darren.

Ridgway, which went into business in 1959,
calls itself one of the oldest truss manufacturers in the country.

“Our trusses support structures from Virginia to the Caribbean Islands,” its website notes. “We engineer every truss to customer specifications and build each on a computer automated jig table.”

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