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Alachua seeks to boost downtown

Walker - Alachua CRA IMG 1886

CM WALKER/Alachua  County Today

ALACHUA – Representatives from Redevelopment Management Associates (RMA) were on hand late Tuesday afternoon at the Swick House in Alachua to hear from local business and property owners about how they would like to see the developments of Main Street and the Community Redevelopment Area occur.

The three representatives, Kevin Crowder, Director of Economic Development; Sharon McCormick, Director of Business Attraction & Marketing; and Lynn Dehlinger, Sr. Economic Development Manager, conducted a brief presentation before the Alachua City Commission the night before.

The workshop was the first in a series of steps in the creation and implementation of a plan to develop the area. Citizen input will help the group produce a marketing plan.

RMA contends that some of the plans it developed in other parts of Florida have led to a vibrant, healthy economy.

Some of the issues residents asked the developers to keep in mind included ways in which traffic might be directed from U.S. 441 to downtown Alachua; the creation of adequate parking; better signage; how to maintain foot traffic on Sundays when some stores are closed; removing stop signs on Main Street; modifications to city codes to encourage shorter business startup times; and ways to help keep retail buildings from being rented out as office space.

Crowder explained how the group expects the process to advance. “We expect to have a market assessment completed by the end of February,” he said. “In March, we plan to have the meat of what our strategies will be to achieve our goals. By April we will be finalizing the action plan and begin implementation. We expect to be finished with the process by May 1,” he said.

One audience member asked if there was a connection between a vibrant downtown area and arts and culture. “Absolutely,” was the response of all three RMA representatives. “A common theme in Winter Park, Sarasota, Melbourne, Delray Beach and Northwood Village is arts and culture,” said Crowder. “It's one of the key elements that helps define that area. Identifying those opportunities, they can be big or small, is very important.”

As an example of a small item that can be done to maintain arts and culture, he explained, “When there is a vacancy in Coconut Grove, the building owner keeps the lights on so the local artists can display their work in the window.”

Another important element in creating a destination for visitors is social networking, explained McCormick. Accurate GPS and tourist destination site listings are two ways in which the internet can help define an area for visitors. “Yelp is a great way to locate city building departments as well as other items,” said Crowder. “A Facebook page is a place to engage. It has to be managed. You have to work on it,” he said.

McCormick touched on the idea that Alachua already had a lot of existing assets. Following the meeting, Crowder listed some of the assets he had already observed.

“First and foremost is the historic essence...the historic buildings...the historic district, the National Register Designation, that is a big asset. The design of Main Street and the curve that was put in...the comments I've heard are that that aesthetic is a big asset. The proximity to U.S. 441 and I-75 is an asset. Alachua is closer to the interstate than a lot of the real vibrant downtowns that we see around the state. Progress Park is a strong asset and is probably not being used to its full potential.” Finally, he listed the city's proximity to a market like Gainesville as another benefit that can be explored.

Cultural tourism, an aspect of developing a vibrant downtown area, was defined by Crowder. “Anything that brings in people who don't live here to engage in and experience whatever creativity the area has to offer. It can be historic district tourism. Historic assets are cultural assets,” he said. “Whatever cultural experiences we find here that create that identity that makes people seek you out and want to live or visit is cultural tourism.”

RMA was brought to Alachua at a cost of $50,000 and is being paid for jointly by the Community Redevelopment Agency and the city's General Fund.

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Slain town marshall's portraint donated to museum

HS Town MarshallPortraitIMG 1882

Photo by ED BOOTH/Special to Alachua County Today

HIGH SPRINGS – David Rivers, great grandson of Town Marshall George Lasonro Bryant, presented a portrait of his great grandfather to High Springs Police Lt. Antoine Sheppard and High Springs Police Chief Joel DeCoursey on Thursday, Jan. 21.

Although the presentation was made to the High Springs Police Department, the portrait was actually donated to the High Springs Historical Society Museum and will be displayed by them after it has been framed, according to Historical Museum President Bob Watson.

Bryant was officially honored on Dec. 3, 2015, at a memorial dedication ceremony at the site of a newly-installed commemorative sculpture in front of the City of High Springs Police Department.

Bryant was killed in the line of duty on Dec. 3, 1908, after serving 15 years as Town Marshall for the City of High Springs. He was shot by an intoxicated man while investigating a disturbance.

Historical records show he was the first law enforcement officer killed in Alachua County and the only law enforcement officer slain in High Springs.

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LaCrosse Fire Department feels funding squeeze

Barnett - LaCrosse VFD IMG 5265

RAINA BARNETT/Alachua County Today

LACROSSE – On Jan. 12, the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) made an agreement with the Melrose Volunteer Fire Department (MVFD) to continue county service coverage for an additional amount up to $87,000.

According to LaCrosse Fire Chief Paul McDavid, that is not justified when compared to other community situations.

The Town of LaCrosse has had a long struggle with the county over funding for fire protection services.

“The arguments [Melrose made to the county] are the exact same points that the Town of LaCrosse made, only to fall on deaf ears,” McDavid wrote in an email.

LaCrosse has its own fire department and contracts with the County to provide rural fire rescue services to county residents within an approximate 86 square mile area surrounding the town.

It is staffed by certified, paid firefighters and has the longstanding support of actively involved volunteer firefighters, according to the city website, townoflacrosse.net.

Yet according to McDavid, the fire department lacks sufficient employees, a county-owned fire truck, and an adequate roof.

“The Board of County Commissioners offered [to hire] two staff [for MVFD] for Monday through Friday, 40 hours a week,” McDavid said. “They will have two EMT/Firefighters there 24 percent of the time, but volunteer response changes with the time of day and time of year.

“How many can and will respond when the assured two person staff is off? What are you going to get?”

McDavid indicated that County funding for fire protection is not adequately in proportion to the value of property within each service area.

The 2014 taxable value in the 22 square mile area for MVFD was $74,574,530. In the 80 square miles of unincorporated area the LaCrosse FD responds to, the value was $98,353,710.

“Sure, I get that there are several farms and a bunch of pine trees, but…the ‘taxable value’ we protect is $23,779,180 [more],” McDavid said.

“We get $140,764 from theC in 12 monthly installments to handle the calls in 80 square miles.”

According to McDavid, when combined with the funding the county already provides to MVFD, the additional $87,000 will result in overall funding of approximately $134,000, which would be only $6,000 less than LaCrosse receives for covering four times as much property that is also more valuable.

McDavid emphasized, however, that ultimately the concern is whether funding is sufficient to cover a certain area.

“It should not matter what you live in or how big your tax bill is, everybody should be treated fairly and given adequate protection,” McDavid said.

The LaCrosse Fire Department building was built in the 1970s, and with the age comes the need for repairs and maintenance.

The funding the department is hoping to negotiate for would allow for repairs and addressing other priorities, such as investing in proper fire equipment and hiring other firefighters.

“Basically, over the months, April, May, June, July, we’ve been asking for funding, and they came back and said the town needs to be responsible for its own department, which I get,” McDavid said.

An additional $50,000 per year for LaCrosse was brought to a motion at a previous BOCC meeting, but the motion failed without receiving a second.

“We have no hydrants out here, we’re as bad as it gets, we don’t have residents here to support installing new water systems,” McDavid said.

“That $50,000 [could] help this department, but that’s not even to help replace the roof, it’s really to cover our insurance, FICO taxes, and our seven day a week coverage, 365 days we provide.”

As for the next step, McDavid said the blame game needs to stop.

“How about we start that conversation soon,” he said. “All of us. Stop the ‘we’ and ‘they.’ Give Chief Northcutt the funding and resources he needs so he can apply those words ‘innovative’ and ‘progressive’ to his organization. If you must use other organizations [contract stations] to fill the gaps in the meantime, let us look at a level playing field and get on it. Let us change the culture of 'we've always done it that way’.”

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It's all about trains at Santa Fe's community ed class

 

CAROL WALKER/Alachua County Today Walker - Train IMG 1871

 

HIGH SPRINGS – For those who had model trains when they were kids and wish to relive the fun of one of the world's greatest hobbies, Santa Fe College's Community Education Enrichment program is offering two ways to renew acquaintance with this interesting pastime.

 

The first of two short, two-hour courses, “Model Trains:  History,” began last Thursday, Jan. 21, by exploring model trains from the early 1900s to the present.  The class is being held at the Historic High Springs Elementary School and Community Center. 

 

The second half of the course will be held on Thursday, Feb. 4.  The course instructor for both classes is Robert Watson, President of the High Springs Historical Museum. 

 

While the first class had to do with sharing information on the history of model trains, the second class will continue that theme for about 30 minutes before taking field trips to the local homes of two guest speakers, Sam Viviano and Pete Woodward. 

 

Both have a long history of model railroading, and each has their own train layout.  Viviano's is a Lionel three-rail, while Woodward's is an American Flyer two rail.

 

An assortment of interested people joined the first class.  At least two people were members of The North Central Florida Model Railroad Club, housed in Alachua.  Some were just interested in the topic, and some were trying to reconnect with a past hobby.  All expressed delight at being able to visit two train layouts in the second class session.

 

Watson explained that others can join for the second class and field trips by contacting Santa Fe College.

 

The second course, which begins Feb. 11, is “Model Trains:  Gauge, Setup, Care.”  This course explores the various gauges and sizes of model trains from G Scale to Z Gauge.  Layout, diorama building and model train maintenance will be the areas covered in this two-hour, two-class course. 

 

Participants will see a diorama being created by the course instructor.  The course will be held in the same location and runs from 6-8 p.m.

 

The fee for each of the two courses is $24.

 

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