GAINESVILLE – About a month after Alachua County commissioners agreed to consider new proposals for use of funds raised from a 1-cent tourist development tax on all lodging in the county, the cities of High Springs and Hawthorne joined the likes of the cities of Gainesville and Newberry in vying for at least some of the funds.
Last week, the City of Alachua got the nod from the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) for $500,000 toward a $1.2 million purchase of 105 acres adjacent to the city’s Hal Brady Recreation Complex.
It was that request from the City of Alachua and another from the City of Newberry that prompted a reopening of project considerations.
Last year, the BOCC approved a 2-cent hike in the bed taxes, fees collected on hotel, motel, campground and similar rentals. Each cent is expected to raise some $650,000 annually which can be used toward projects intended to attract more tourism to Alachua County.
The funding from one cent of the increase was committed over a period of several years to help develop Nations Baseball Park in Newberry. The remaining one cent was being set aside to help fund a new county fairgrounds on Waldo Road in Gainesville. But that project may have been derailed since the Newberry officials have proposed the funds instead be pledged to help purchase the Canterbury Equestrian Showplace in Newberry and move the fairgrounds there.
According to a document produced by the City of Newberry, the 60-acre Canterbury site could be purchased for $5 million. County officials had been expecting to use an already-purchased tract of land on Waldo Road for the fairgrounds, but the first phase of that project is expected to require $22 million.
The City of High Springs submitted three proposals for use of the tourist development tax funds. One project is focused on construction of a railroad museum and the funding of a passenger train to travel between the High Springs and Newberry. According to the city’s proposal, the estimated cost of the museum is between $125,000 and $150,000, but the cost of repairing tracks and acquiring a train was unknown.
Another project offered by High Springs for funding is the purchase and restoration of The Priest Theater, a century old building that had been functioning as a movie theater until recently. The property is up for sale at $250,000. High Springs officials estimate that renovations would require about $300,000 for a total project cost of $550,000.
Also proposed for consideration is a plan that would upgrade the City of High Springs’ BMX racing facility. Some of the upgrades the City proposes are bathroom facility improvements, covered seating, campsites, additional track expansion, concession facilities and more. The cost of the city’s BMX track upgrades and improvements would come with a price tag of just more than $300,000.
The City of Hawthorne, meanwhile proposes that tourist development taxes be directed toward its Little Orange Creek Nature Park (LOCNP). The city wants about $625,000 to convert an existing residence into a multiuse building consisting of a nature center, museum, event center and environmental education center. About $100,000 of the proposed costs would be used to construct a fishing pier. The City of Hawthorne recently acquired the 1,135 acres that are now the LOCNP. Some 925 acres of the property are located in Alachua County with the remaining lands in neighboring Putnam County.
Although the City of Gainesville submitted a plan that would use funds to expedite the construction of the first phase of the Cade Museum proposed for Depot Park, city officials also urged the county not to defund the new fairgrounds project.
All of the projects are expected to be reviewed in a Nov. 22 county meeting.
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