Gainesville, Georgia: A Model for Strategic Planning and Sustainable Growth

Gainesville, Georgia, is experiencing a remarkable period of growth. In the past five years alone, the city has attracted an impressive $318 million in private investment to its downtown and Midland area. This success can be attributed to the unique strategic planning process developed by the University of Georgia Vinson Institute of Government, which has become indispensable in guiding the city's progress. Today, we will explore how Gainesville is leveraging this planning process to fuel its growth and revitalize its community.

Gainesville's commitment to strategic planning is evident in its recent acquisition of $4.4 million in funding from the governor's office. This funding supports the community-driven plan titled "A Vision for the Athens Street and 129 South Corridors," which focuses on increasing greenspace and connectivity. This plan, released last year by the UGA Institute of Government, aims to enhance the quality of life for residents and visitors alike.

The city of Gainesville and Hall County will each receive $2.2 million, contributing to a statewide package of over $225 million for 142 projects. These investments will improve neighborhood assets such as parks, recreation facilities, and sidewalks, especially in communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Gainesville's long-term partnership with the CVIOG has played a pivotal role in the city's downtown revitalization. The collaboration began a decade ago when the city sought expert assistance from the UGA Institute of Government for a master plan for its downtown. The resulting Downtown Gainesville Renaissance Strategic Vision and Plan (RSVP) set the city's progress in motion and remains a vital resource for community development.

According to Rusty Ligon, community and economic development director, the visuals created by the UGA Institute of Government have played a crucial role in garnering community support. Whether showcasing redevelopment projects, green spaces, or streetscaping, these visuals have successfully communicated the potential of downtown Gainesville. In fact, the 144-page manual that was printed based on the plan has been reprinted three times.

Capitalizing on the RSVP process, Gainesville has witnessed substantial housing growth in its downtown area. Over 800 new residential units have been built or are under construction since 2015, representing nearly $300 million in private investment and $25 million from public funds. This housing boom illustrates the effectiveness of strategic planning in driving economic development.

Leaders credit the RSVP process for creating a "road map" powered by community buy-in and public investment. Bryan Lackey, Gainesville city manager, highlights the positive response from other stakeholders, eager to contribute to the city's progress. This philosophy aligns with current best practices in economic development, emphasizing the integration of the Main Street approach and placemaking.

Gainesville's Solis development stands as a shining example of successful revitalization. Originally planned as a commercial development, the 6.5-acre plot transitioned into a mixed-use residential complex, complete with green space and complementary retail. The Institute of Government's concept for Solis sparked significant development in the surrounding area, known as Midland. This includes a second phase of the Solis complex, single-family homes, parks, and a restaurant-concert venue opening this summer.

In addition to strategic planning, Gainesville's success can also be attributed to a healthy partnership between government workers and elected officials. Jessica Tullar, housing and special projects manager in the city's community development department, acknowledges the support and empowerment received from existing council members. This collaboration ensures that visioning plans are not only created but also implemented effectively.

Danny Dunagan, a current city council representative and former mayor of Gainesville, champions the UGA partnership and the RSVP process. He highlights the city's controlled growth and the harmonious relationship between the city council and county commissioners. This collaboration serves the best interests of Gainesville and Hall County, ensuring that growth is sustained and beneficial for all.

Gainesville, Georgia, serves as a testament to the power of strategic planning in driving sustainable and community-driven growth. Through its partnership with the UGA Institute of Government and the implementation of the RSVP process, the city has revitalized its downtown, attracted substantial private investment, and improved the overall quality of life for its residents. Gainesville's success story is a valuable example for other communities seeking to transform and thrive.

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