Emiliano’s Café co-owner Diego Ibanez has walked past the colorful construction banners swathing Bo Diddley Plaza for the past year.
On March 1, 2016, the chain-link fence will come down and the ever-present yellow forklifts will drive off into the sunset as the downtown plaza re-opens to the community.
Spearheaded by the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), the eagerly anticipated $1.8 million plaza renovations include a water wall with 250 programmable lights facing University Avenue, a new café space, new public restrooms, an informational kiosk and a green room for enhanced performances.
“Bo Diddley Plaza is the front gate to downtown,” Ibanez said. “The (north side) design aspect with University Avenue is important and will create a more welcoming experience. I’m looking forward to more diversity in the types of music and the increased access for vendors.”
As president of the Gainesville Downtown Owners and Tenants (GDOT) organization, Ibanez is well aware of the benefits the newly activated space will have for the area’s economic growth and quality of life. Big events like the annual Fest punk rock shows and PRIDE parade have spillover benefits for local shops and restaurants, he said.
When the plaza renovations are complete, he said that ensuring a schedule of consistent events and activities will be integral for a vibrant downtown experience.
“It’s a community plaza — the community needs to be using it,” he said. “Personally, I would love to see a craft beer festival, Hippodrome plays, jazz festivals and more.”
Michael Reeves, public information officer for the Eighth Judicial Circuit of Florida, works in the courthouse on the east side of the plaza. He has welcomed the updated look.
“The Bo Diddley Plaza certainly needed a facelift,” Reeves said. “It has long been touted as the cultural epicenter of Gainesville, but the lack of landscaping and architecture made for an uninviting venue. We’re looking forward to enjoying a welcoming area outdoors where anyone who is downtown can have lunch or get some fresh air.”
The improvements were designed to better activate the plaza.
“Prior to construction, portions of the plaza felt hidden and a bit like a back alley,” said Interim CRA Director Sarah Vidal-Finn.
“The layout of the new café, water wall and kiosk will create a more welcoming experience,” she said. “These changes will significantly increase Bo Diddley Plaza’s safety, accessibility and visibility.”
City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs (PRCA) Department Director Steve Phillips credits interdepartmental coordination and citizen outreach with making the project a success.
“It really was a team effort,” he said. “PRCA, CRA, Gainesville Police Department, Gainesville Regional Utilities, Public Works, GDOT, citizen advisory boards, community leaders and many more stakeholders shaped the improvements.”
Working closely with other departments also helped pool together resources and leverage funding. This coordination helped PRCA-led improvements to the south side of the downtown plaza, including acoustical improvements to the Bo Diddley Plaza stage, LED stage lighting, brick repairs, enhanced turf, new light fixtures and a stage mural re-touch by the original artist, he said.
“The potential for future programming is exciting,” he said. “We’re looking forward to tying the plaza back into existing events like free Friday concerts, Jest Fest and the weekly farmers market as well as expanding programming to include more holistic day-to-day events.”
In addition to the physical improvements, citizens will find that it’s easier than ever to use the plaza for events. In line with the Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee on Economic Competiveness’s recommendations for making the City of Gainesville more user friendly, the CRA has worked closely with other departments to streamline the plaza rental/operations process.
Instead of having to call five different departments to get answers on event setup, citizens and organizations interested in using the plaza will be assigned one centralized “action officer” to help them get the answers they need quickly and effectively.
City of Gainesville Commissioner and CRA Board Chair Craig Carter said that both the physical and procedural changes will make Bo Diddley Plaza more user friendly for all citizens.
“More people will want to use the venue now that it’s more accessible,” he said. “Since the beginning, Bo Diddley Plaza has been a major attraction. These improvements will encourage more people to come eat, drink and enjoy the benefits of downtown.”
There’s even more to look forward to.
“The Bo Diddley Plaza revitalization is just one piece of the puzzle, with Depot Park on track to open later this year,” Carter said. “These major projects will complement one another and make Gainesville an even more attractive place to live.”
*Save the Date*
On Thursday, February 25, 2016, a free concert headlined by nationally acclaimed R&B singer Charles Bradley will kick off the plaza reopening from 6 to 10 p.m. The Gainesville native has sung at Bonnaroo, South by Southwest and Coachella — this concert will be his first performance in his hometown. Organized by the annual public interest communicators conference frank 2016, the celebration will feature live art by 352Creates, performances by local bands, and a variety of food trucks and micro-brews.
Interested in using the downtown plaza for an event in 2016?
Contact CRA Project Manager Malcolm Kiner at HammN1@cityofgainesville.org or 352-393-8202.