Innovate March 2016

Innovative Civil Planning


Written By: Chris Eversole

ALACHUA’S MASTER PLANNING IS PROVING FRUITFUL

The City of Alachua’s economy is thriving, with major advances in manufacturing, technology and sports tourism.

“Our investments in the future are paying off,” Mayor Gib Coerper said. “We have a little of everything while maintaining our quaint, walkable feel.”

The recent progress includes the following:

• Nanotherapeutics Inc. completed a $135 million manufacturing plant for products that fight bioterrorism

• An agreement between Alachua-based Applied Genetic Technologies Corp. and Massachusetts-based Biogen that could pay AGTC up to $1 billion over time for license and commercialization rights to several of its gene-based therapies

• Preparation of the design drawings for a $330 million medical isotope production plant that Coqui Radio Pharmaceuticals Corp. plans to build in the city

• Development of a master plan for Legacy Park, a 105-acre site next to the city’s Hal Brady Recreation Complex

These accomplishments point to a sustainable future with a strong tax base and abundant jobs while maintaining a small-town feel.

The road ahead looks far better than when Coerper moved to town in the early 1970s.

The city was one square mile in size, the population was just over 2,000 and the historic downtown shopping area was in decline.

Annexations have increased the area of the city to 29 square miles — more than half the 49 square miles of the City of Gainesville. The city limits stretch southeast to the Turkey Creek community and northwest of Interstate 75 to the site of distribution centers for Dollar General, Walmart and Sysco.

The population is approaching 10,000. Not only is downtown thriving, but big box shopping is also abundant with the addition of a Lowe’s and a Publix.

A Walmart Super center is also scheduled to be built now that an agreement has been reached addressing environmental issues Alachua County Government had raised in a lawsuit.

Homegrown businesses are holding their own despite competition from national chains, Coerper said.

“Alachua Farm & Lumber was worried when Lowe’s came in, but they’ve found a niche in guns and western wear,” he said.

The city is a regional job center, employing 5,000, with many of the workers coming from elsewhere in Alachua County and surrounding counties, Assistant City Manager Adam Boukari said.

Many jobs are in Progress Corporate Park. Employers include RTI, a leading international provider of implants used for orthopedic and dental surgeries and other applications, and AxoGen, which makes innovative products that repair peripheral nerve damage.

Other major employers in town include Sandvik, which manufactures large machines in mining, and sailboat manufacturer Marlow-Hunter.

Marlow-Hunter is the new name for Hunter Marine. David Marlow, owner of Palmetto-based Marlow Yachts, bought Hunter after its parent company went bankrupt.

“They’ve come back strong, and they’re continuing Hunter’s heritage of shipping boats all over the world,” said Edward Potts, president of the Alachua Chamber of Commerce.

LEGACY PARK

Recreation, sports tourism and events that attract visitors are vital to the community, Coerper said.

Many activities, including the Fourth of July fireworks display that attracts 30,000 people and the Babe Ruth World Series tournaments, are centered at the Hal Brady Recreation Complex, located at the northwest edge of the historic central city.

The city jumped into action when a site next to the current recreation complex went on the market in 2010 because the current facilities are maxed out, Boukari said. The property had a development potential of 200 homes.

“We wanted to preserve this land and combine it with the Hal Brady Complex to create a beautiful park with rolling hills,” Boukari said.

The city mounted a fundraising drive for the land, and it purchased the property with funds from two Alachua County funding sources, the Wild Places, Public Places sales tax and the Tourist Development Tax, as well as private donations and city dollars.

Over the past year, the city has reached out to the community for ideas to create a master plan for Legacy Park.

“We wanted ideas to provide diverse opportunities and amenities on this large swath of property,” Boukari said.

The consultant team consisting of CHW Professional Consultants, Buford Davis and Associates Landscape Architect and Paul Stresing Associates helped develop the master plan.

It calls for building a 36,000-square-foot multipurpose building that will include four courts for basketball or volleyball, locker rooms, meeting rooms, restrooms and offices.

The master plan also includes three multipurpose fields, two full-size Babe Ruth League baseball fields, six tennis courts and an amphitheater.

“We want to attract tournaments, increasing our sports tourism, but our first priority is to provide enough facilities so our residents don’t have to drive an hour to play sports,” Boukari said.

WORKING THROUGH OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES

The level of cooperation that is leading to Legacy Park and the growth of technology and manufacturing has deep roots, Coerper said.

Some of those roots began decades ago, when the city encountered both good fortune and misfortune.

The city was fortunate in landing an Interstate 75 intersection with U.S. Route 441 when the interstate highway was built during the 1960s. One payoff was a growth of highway-oriented businesses. Another payoff is that the interchange provides easy access for distribution centers.

Major misfortunes were the closing of two factories — a sausage plant and a battery plant.

In 1978, the Copeland Sausage Plant shut down, laying off 400 workers and eliminating its purchase of hogs from area farmers.

“Copeland was a huge part of the community,” said David Pope, a longtime business leader. “When the plant closed, this town just died.”

A battery plant located just outside the city limits on U.S. Route 441 closed in the early 2000s.

The plant, which General Electric built in 1963, employed 2,000 workers at its peak. A series of owners tried to make a go of various battery technologies in the face of growing competition from Asia.

Finally, owner Moltech Power Systems sold the plant to a Chinese company that closed it and shipped some of the equipment to China.

A building block for today’s economy in Alachua was the construction of a sewer plant with plenty of excess capacity in 1976.

The sewer plant, which was later doubled in capacity, became critical to major industrial and residential growth that continues today.

“The main difference between Alachua and High Springs economically is that we have sewer,” said Rick Robertson, owner of the Conestogas Restaurant.

The downtown came back to life in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. The redesign of Main Street — with ample parking and a pedestrian friendly feel — set the stage for the renaissance. Private owners who renovated buildings also helped, said former Alachua Mayor Jean Calderwood.

“For years, we’ve had business people and city government working together to make a lot of great things happen,” she said.

REGIONAL PLAYER

Alachua business and government leaders are involved in regional planning and development efforts.

Coerper and other city officials are active in groups such as the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization, the Alachua County League of Cities and the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

The city — with a $100,000 commitment — is the only municipality in the county that is contributing to the Transforming Greater Gainesville five-year strategic plan from the Council for Economic Outreach, the Gainesville chamber’s job-creation arm.

The Alachua Chamber of Commerce is a paying member of the CEO, and the Gainesville and Alachua chambers are working together on business recruitment, Alachua Chamber President Potts said.

The involvement with CEO reaped a dividend when Coqui decided to locate its manufacturing plant — which will be the first large-scale provider of nuclear isotopes in the United States — to Alachua. The company first visited Alachua in 2010 on a trip that CEO coordinated with Enterprise Florida.

A key selling point was that a site was available in the 280-acre corporate park that the University of Florida Foundation owns on farmland adjacent to Progress Corporate Park.

“Alachua has the land available that will help the growth of the entirety of Alachua County,” Potts said.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Senior Writer CHRIS EVERSOLE has been a keen observer of business, government and culture in the Greater Gainesville Area while living here over the past two decades. His experience includes work with the University of Florida and Alachua County Government. He also has been a journalist and public relations professional in the Tampa Bay and Saras Bradenton areas, as well as in Michigan, Ohio and New York.

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