Live, work and play communities are generating a buzz in Greater Gainesville, with multiple new developments planned that offer home, retail, dining, entertainment and work opportunities.
Yet these new projects – such as Butler Town Center and Innovation Square – have several predecessors that have proven themselves over more than two decades.
Three successful live, work and play communities – which vary markedly in their approach, yet get raving reviews from their residents – are the following:
• The Town of Tioga, the nearly 400-unit neo-traditional development far west on Newberry Road that incorporates a variety of housing styles on small lots reminiscent of historic small towns while offering abundant retail, office, dining, entertainment, walking and fitness features.
• Union Street Station, a four-story structure in Downtown Gainesville with a variety of retail and dining businesses on its first floor, offices on its second floor and upscale condos on its third and fourth floors.
• Hunters Crossing, an apartment complex with a next-door shopping center and a church, day care center and the Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park within walking distance.
The Town of Tioga is so successful that it will be nearly doubling in size, with a second section planned to the south of a new road called the Eighth Avenue extension. But Development Director Luiz Diaz recalls that acceptance of the project was slow as it got underway in the late 1990s.
“Pioneers are the ones with arrows in their backs,” he said. When he was developing Tioga in the 1990s, people told him that his plan to offer homes of a variety of sizes and varying prices wouldn’t fly in the Gainesville market. So he started cautiously by offering more expensive houses at very good prices, he said.
“It took a little while to sell those, but after that, everybody became comfortable buying homes underneath those prices,” he said. “By now, we’ve demonstrated that we can have different price ranges in different phases of a development.”
OFFICE AND HOME CLOSE TOGETHER
Another aspect of the community is that 40 apartments are located over the businesses in Tioga Town Center, noted Gil Levy, the town center’s president.
“Our residents love being 100 percent part of an urban environment,” he said. “They can go out on their balconies to enjoy the movies and concerts we put on.”
From 30 to 40 percent of the residents have lived in the town center for several years. “They get to know each other very well,” Levy said.
The convenience of having the gym, coffee shop and restaurants readily available when they get home from work appeals to the residents. “They consider this a high value amenity,” Levy said.
People enjoy working in offices in the town center. “It’s a more urban and vibrant environment than a traditional office park,” he said.
LIFE IN THE HEART OF DOWNTOWN
Ed Mendel builds custom homes, but his own home is a condo in downtown Union Street Station. He got the idea of an urban lifestyle when he visited a friend in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
“It was great coming down to the street and being able to go to restaurants and shops,” he said. “I realized that what I didn’t like about Gainesville was having to drive everywhere.”
Shortly after that, he discovered that Ken and Linda McGurn were building Union Street Station, a mixed-use building that occupies a block at 201 SE Second Ave.
In 2002, the McGurns sold Mendel the shell of his condo, allowing him to build it out himself. “I’m glad they did,” he said. “I was able to customize it to my liking.”
Mendel was the first owner to move into Union Street Station, which he now occupies with his girlfriend, Sharron Carr.
“We truly enjoy it,” he said. “Some weekends, we have dinner, go to the Hippodrome, take our dogs to the dog park and walk through the Duck Pond. Before you know it, it’s Monday morning, and we haven’t gotten into our automobile the entire weekend.”
Mendel and Carr are friendly with most downtown business owners. “Our dogs, a great dane and labrador, are better known than we are,” he said.
Downtown is becoming more vibrant all the time, with additions of new restaurants and parks – including the recently completed Depot Park, Mendell noted.
“People ask if it’s quiet, and I have to admit that it’s not, but it is not offensive,” Mendel said. “Don’t move downtown if you want quiet. When I hear a bus late at night, it’s good to know the world is still running.”
Mendel’s office is not far away at 509 NW 10th Ave. “I can get to my office in ten minutes,” he said.
COMPLETE COMMUNITY FOR RENTERS
Jackie Nevin has lived in the Hunters Crossing apartment complex, owned by Contemporary Management Concepts, for 13 years, yet she’s only put 20,000 miles on her car in that time.
“There’s everything here; there’s nothing that you can’t get,” she said. “The only place I drive is Littlewood Elementary School to volunteer and to my doctors.”
Tamar Hajian also likes the convenience of the Hunters Crossing shopping center, which includes a Publix, Ace Hardware, beauty salon and restaurants – plus a Walgreens and CVS and other shopping across the street. “You can get to almost anything here – with a short walk,” she said.
“All of our basic needs are within a few feet,” she said. “It’s a very nice mix of ages and a very nice mix of various kinds of people.”
Will Ward lived in a retirement community for 15 years, but he moved to Hunters Crossing. “I saved a lot of money. This is perfect for me, and I even have a garage for my antique red Mercedes.”
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 Sarasota- Bradenton areas, as well as in Michigan, Ohio and New York.