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 Dias 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
The diversity is what made Tioga appealing to Scott Robinson.
“There’s a good blend of housing styles and diversity economically and socially,” he said. “We have everything from people starting a family to empty nesters.”
He actually brought his business to Tioga first. Robinson, who is the managing principal of Affiliated Engineers Inc., relocated his team of 40 staff members to offices above retail space in 2013 at the suggestion of Nick Banks, managing director of Front Street Commercial Real Estate Group.
He moved into a 2,300-square-foot home a year ago. “I had been predisposed to a home with a big lot, but I realized that I don’t need to be mowing and manicuring a lawn all the time,” he said. He’s become friends with neighbors near him and on the alley behind him. “I know a lot more people here than I did in 15 years in a suburban home,” he said.
When clients visit, the office often orders in from the Flower Pot Bakery in Town of Tioga. Other lunch favorites are Dave’s New York Deli and Blue Highway Pizza. In the evening, Robinson likes Sabore and World of Beer. And Starbucks is always good for a break, he said.
“I work long hours, and they change a lot,” he said. “I can go to the gym (the Gainesville Health & Fitness branch) for a 30-minute workout, and then go back to work. It help me mentally as well as physically.”
Rick Hammond of Tioga Realty also lives and works in the community. He and his wife – who are empty-nesters – have lived in what he calls a cozy three-bedroom cottage since 2008.
“It helps my work that I live here,” Hammond said. “I’m always available, and it says to buyers, ‘If he’s willing to live here, it must be a pretty great place.’”
Hammond offers buyers his first-hand knowledge of the community’s many amenities. “I can explain how walkable it is, with our paved parkways, trees and large green space,” he said.
Some people like Tioga so much that they’ve upgraded to new homes there as many as three times, Hammond noted. “There’s a great spirit of community with lots to do,” he said.
Dana Sherrill, owner of Little Jill and Co., and her husband Jonathan love their lifestyle as “Tiogans,” and they’ve lived in the community since 2012.
“I have had a dream/business plan for seven years now to open up a children’s boutique, and we didn’t want to go anywhere other than Tioga,” she said. “When you get the Tioga ‘it factor,’ you simply get it and you just can’t go elsewhere.”
The Tioga community is like family, she said. “We all stay closely connected, whether it’s business, evening walks, book clubs or the Next Door app.”
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 10 minutes,” he said.
Complete Community for Renters
Jackie Nevin has been 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.”