Butler Plaza is ever evolving, and now has grown to become the Neighborhoods at Butler.
Earthmovers are plying the emerging neighborhood, Butler Town Center, which will feature places to live and have fun as well as shop in a design highlighting the area’s heritage.
The town center site, located at the gateway to the Neighborhoods at Butler (SW 34th Street and Archer Road), opened up for construction after all the previous stores there relocated to Butler North — the expansive new shopping area that features new renditions of existing stores and the addition of retailers, restaurants and service businesses new to the market.
The Neighborhoods at Butler are providing a new face of Gainesville. That will especially be true of the town center, which will include a Main Street featuring a food hall, specialized shops, 365 by Whole Foods and a renovated Regal Cinema.
Luxury apartments called the Residences at Butler Town Center will add to a sense of community – including 50 units above retail spaces and 143 units in a six story building, five of which are residential.
The fast pace of change today follows 15 years of challenging planning, involving negotiations and collaboration with local government, retailers, architects, civil engineers and other professionals.
As part of the work, the face of the original Butler Plaza along Archer Road has been transformed from its dated 1970s look to a modern setting featuring new restaurants such as Burger Fi and Zoes Kitchen, along with a new Starbucks, replete with outdoor seating and trendy color schemes.
Driving the project has been Deborah Butler, the daughter of the area’s original developer, Clark Butler, who died in 2008.
“I remember when the stores that we’ve now replaced with new versions first opened,” Butler said. “It’s exciting to see the new face of the city we’ve created.”
Creating a New Community
Debbie Berdy went to grade school with Deborah Butler, the two have been friends since then.
Now they’re partnering on the Residences at Butler Town Center – which Butler will build and Berdy’s company, Contemporary Management Concepts, will operate.
Berdy is excited about the project. “Where else can you walk your dog to restaurants, theaters, a grocery store and a drug store?” she said.
The apartments, targeted at professionals and retirees, will be accompanied by a coffee bar, internet lounge and a fitness center. Each unit will feature French doors onto the patio, granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. “It’s going to be an awesome place to live,” Berdy said.
The apartments represent the new trend toward being renters by choice. “Some professional find buying a home too permanent, and many retirees want fewer headaches,” she said.
The town center will reflect the Gainesville area yet allow retailers to showcase their latest prototypes, said its architect, Everett Hatcher, president of Birmingham, Alabama-based CMH Architects.
“We’re encouraging the tenants to express their individuality and brands,” “This will be like a village that has developed over time.”
Its food hall will include the best in local fare with select national names. “There will be both ‘slow’ food and fast food, including local names people will recognize featuring farm to table dishes,” Butler said. P.F. Chang’s, one of the most popular Chinese restaurant chains in the country will be located adjacent to the Food Hall, along with one or two other established names.
In planning the town center, Butler visited shopping centers that represent New Urbanism from coast to coast.
She borrowed from downtown Paris and other European cities that she had visited as a college student.
“The town center itself will be a form of entertainment,” Butler said. “It will have so many amenities, making it a fun place to shop, sit and enjoy yourself. Any additional activities will be the icing on the cake.”
The town center also will feature a water wall. “I feel like a kid,” Butler said. “This is all so neat.”
Butler is proud that her father and her have stayed with their namesake for more than 40 years – unlike many developers who built a project and then sell it. “I’m not a flipper,” she said.
Robert Gibbs, who is a national expert on shopping centers and New Urbanism design, has been working with Butler for about 20 years.
“Deborah is a real student of having the best and the latest and the most sustainable project,” he said. “I teach in a program at Harvard, and she’s attended twice. She’d rather take her time to do things right. She’s in it for the long haul.”
Town centers have become more popular than malls, he said. “There used to be 10 to 12 malls built every year. Now one is built every two years,” he said.
The Neighborhoods at Butler offer the best of both worlds, he said. “You can do to the anchors and then enjoy yourself at the town center,” he said. “One complements the other.”
“People want to feel that there in a place, a place where they are more of a citizen than a consumer.”
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.