Walker - Alachua CRA IMG 1886

CM WALKER/Alachua  County Today

ALACHUA – Representatives from Redevelopment Management Associates (RMA) were on hand late Tuesday afternoon at the Swick House in Alachua to hear from local business and property owners about how they would like to see the developments of Main Street and the Community Redevelopment Area occur.

The three representatives, Kevin Crowder, Director of Economic Development; Sharon McCormick, Director of Business Attraction & Marketing; and Lynn Dehlinger, Sr. Economic Development Manager, conducted a brief presentation before the Alachua City Commission the night before.

The workshop was the first in a series of steps in the creation and implementation of a plan to develop the area. Citizen input will help the group produce a marketing plan.

RMA contends that some of the plans it developed in other parts of Florida have led to a vibrant, healthy economy.

Some of the issues residents asked the developers to keep in mind included ways in which traffic might be directed from U.S. 441 to downtown Alachua; the creation of adequate parking; better signage; how to maintain foot traffic on Sundays when some stores are closed; removing stop signs on Main Street; modifications to city codes to encourage shorter business startup times; and ways to help keep retail buildings from being rented out as office space.

Crowder explained how the group expects the process to advance. “We expect to have a market assessment completed by the end of February,” he said. “In March, we plan to have the meat of what our strategies will be to achieve our goals. By April we will be finalizing the action plan and begin implementation. We expect to be finished with the process by May 1,” he said.

One audience member asked if there was a connection between a vibrant downtown area and arts and culture. “Absolutely,” was the response of all three RMA representatives. “A common theme in Winter Park, Sarasota, Melbourne, Delray Beach and Northwood Village is arts and culture,” said Crowder. “It's one of the key elements that helps define that area. Identifying those opportunities, they can be big or small, is very important.”

As an example of a small item that can be done to maintain arts and culture, he explained, “When there is a vacancy in Coconut Grove, the building owner keeps the lights on so the local artists can display their work in the window.”

Another important element in creating a destination for visitors is social networking, explained McCormick. Accurate GPS and tourist destination site listings are two ways in which the internet can help define an area for visitors. “Yelp is a great way to locate city building departments as well as other items,” said Crowder. “A Facebook page is a place to engage. It has to be managed. You have to work on it,” he said.

McCormick touched on the idea that Alachua already had a lot of existing assets. Following the meeting, Crowder listed some of the assets he had already observed.

“First and foremost is the historic essence...the historic buildings...the historic district, the National Register Designation, that is a big asset. The design of Main Street and the curve that was put in...the comments I've heard are that that aesthetic is a big asset. The proximity to U.S. 441 and I-75 is an asset. Alachua is closer to the interstate than a lot of the real vibrant downtowns that we see around the state. Progress Park is a strong asset and is probably not being used to its full potential.” Finally, he listed the city's proximity to a market like Gainesville as another benefit that can be explored.

Cultural tourism, an aspect of developing a vibrant downtown area, was defined by Crowder. “Anything that brings in people who don't live here to engage in and experience whatever creativity the area has to offer. It can be historic district tourism. Historic assets are cultural assets,” he said. “Whatever cultural experiences we find here that create that identity that makes people seek you out and want to live or visit is cultural tourism.”

RMA was brought to Alachua at a cost of $50,000 and is being paid for jointly by the Community Redevelopment Agency and the city's General Fund.

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RAINA BARNETT/Alachua County Today

LACROSSE – On Jan. 12, the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) made an agreement with the Melrose Volunteer Fire Department (MVFD) to continue county service coverage for an additional amount up to $87,000.

According to LaCrosse Fire Chief Paul McDavid, that is not justified when compared to other community situations.

The Town of LaCrosse has had a long struggle with the county over funding for fire protection services.

“The arguments [Melrose made to the county] are the exact same points that the Town of LaCrosse made, only to fall on deaf ears,” McDavid wrote in an email.

LaCrosse has its own fire department and contracts with the County to provide rural fire rescue services to county residents within an approximate 86 square mile area surrounding the town.

It is staffed by certified, paid firefighters and has the longstanding support of actively involved volunteer firefighters, according to the city website, townoflacrosse.net.

Yet according to McDavid, the fire department lacks sufficient employees, a county-owned fire truck, and an adequate roof.

“The Board of County Commissioners offered [to hire] two staff [for MVFD] for Monday through Friday, 40 hours a week,” McDavid said. “They will have two EMT/Firefighters there 24 percent of the time, but volunteer response changes with the time of day and time of year.

“How many can and will respond when the assured two person staff is off? What are you going to get?”

McDavid indicated that County funding for fire protection is not adequately in proportion to the value of property within each service area.

The 2014 taxable value in the 22 square mile area for MVFD was $74,574,530. In the 80 square miles of unincorporated area the LaCrosse FD responds to, the value was $98,353,710.

“Sure, I get that there are several farms and a bunch of pine trees, but…the ‘taxable value’ we protect is $23,779,180 [more],” McDavid said.

“We get $140,764 from theC in 12 monthly installments to handle the calls in 80 square miles.”

According to McDavid, when combined with the funding the county already provides to MVFD, the additional $87,000 will result in overall funding of approximately $134,000, which would be only $6,000 less than LaCrosse receives for covering four times as much property that is also more valuable.

McDavid emphasized, however, that ultimately the concern is whether funding is sufficient to cover a certain area.

“It should not matter what you live in or how big your tax bill is, everybody should be treated fairly and given adequate protection,” McDavid said.

The LaCrosse Fire Department building was built in the 1970s, and with the age comes the need for repairs and maintenance.

The funding the department is hoping to negotiate for would allow for repairs and addressing other priorities, such as investing in proper fire equipment and hiring other firefighters.

“Basically, over the months, April, May, June, July, we’ve been asking for funding, and they came back and said the town needs to be responsible for its own department, which I get,” McDavid said.

An additional $50,000 per year for LaCrosse was brought to a motion at a previous BOCC meeting, but the motion failed without receiving a second.

“We have no hydrants out here, we’re as bad as it gets, we don’t have residents here to support installing new water systems,” McDavid said.

“That $50,000 [could] help this department, but that’s not even to help replace the roof, it’s really to cover our insurance, FICO taxes, and our seven day a week coverage, 365 days we provide.”

As for the next step, McDavid said the blame game needs to stop.

“How about we start that conversation soon,” he said. “All of us. Stop the ‘we’ and ‘they.’ Give Chief Northcutt the funding and resources he needs so he can apply those words ‘innovative’ and ‘progressive’ to his organization. If you must use other organizations [contract stations] to fill the gaps in the meantime, let us look at a level playing field and get on it. Let us change the culture of 'we've always done it that way’.”

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lacrosse marker spc to photo1

Photo special to Alachua County Today

LACROSSE – A new historical marker stands near the intersection of SR 121 and SR 235, providing a fuller history of the LaCrosse area than the first marker placed in 1978.

A Dedication Ceremony was held Saturday at Town Hall in front of a standing-room-only crowd.

The impetus for placing a new marker was Cindy Gallop, a resident of LaCrosse who grew up hearing stories from her mother about her family’s contributions to the establishment of the first settlement.

Gallop said she had been living in LaCrosse for several years before she finally stopped to read the original historical marker. She was surprised to find no mention of her mother’s family, the Parkers, listed.

“I came to the conclusion that either mother had embellished her family tales, or there had been some huge mistake,” she said.

After three years of research, Gallop said she was able to conclude that her mother had been correct: the Parkers were indeed the founders of LaCrosse.

The first historical marker was thus accurate but incomplete.

“Not only did I discover that my mother’s stories about the Parker family were true, but there were other early settlers that needed to be added to this historical account such as the Cellon family,” Gallop said.

Indeed, the new marker lists French immigrant John Cellon as the first settler of the area in the 1840s. It also names for the first time early settlers Thomas Green, Abraham Mott, Richard H. Parker, William Scott and Thomas Standley.

The marker also notes that the town was founded on land granted to Parker by the U.S. government in 1856. While LaCrosse wouldn’t be incorporated until 1897, the community dates back to the earlier time.

Information from the original marker was also included on the new one, including the source of the town’s prosperity in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries owing to cotton.

Boll weevils destroyed the cotton industry locally and throughout the American South, but at its height, LaCrosse – according to the new marker – had “two cotton gins, grist mills, multiple stores, and a hotel.”

Gallop said that finding the correct historical information and taking the steps to update the marker was a collaborative effort between several people in County government, local residents, and family.

“Today some historical data has now been included which honors more families, and it provides a richer heritage,” she said.

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HS Town MarshallPortraitIMG 1882

Photo by ED BOOTH/Special to Alachua County Today

HIGH SPRINGS – David Rivers, great grandson of Town Marshall George Lasonro Bryant, presented a portrait of his great grandfather to High Springs Police Lt. Antoine Sheppard and High Springs Police Chief Joel DeCoursey on Thursday, Jan. 21.

Although the presentation was made to the High Springs Police Department, the portrait was actually donated to the High Springs Historical Society Museum and will be displayed by them after it has been framed, according to Historical Museum President Bob Watson.

Bryant was officially honored on Dec. 3, 2015, at a memorial dedication ceremony at the site of a newly-installed commemorative sculpture in front of the City of High Springs Police Department.

Bryant was killed in the line of duty on Dec. 3, 1908, after serving 15 years as Town Marshall for the City of High Springs. He was shot by an intoxicated man while investigating a disturbance.

Historical records show he was the first law enforcement officer killed in Alachua County and the only law enforcement officer slain in High Springs.

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Turkey Creek

RAINA BARNETT/Alachua County Today

Turkey Creek residents Russ Pisano, 75, and his grandson, Doug McDermott, 15, look out over the Turkey Creek Golf Course from their vantage point of the clubhouse patio.

ALACHUA – The homeowners of Turkey Creek have finally completed the purchase of the community golf course and reopenned the golf club.

An accumulation of over 6,000 volunteer hours spanning just over a year culminated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony inside the newly-renovated golf club Saturday.

It has been a long time coming for the more than 1,200 residents to celebrate an arduous purchase process.

In January 2015, the Turkey Creek Master Owners Association (TCMOA) Board of Directors were anxiously awaiting news that the property had been sold to a private investment, but the deal did not close, and the parties walked away, according to TCMOA Treasurer and Secretary Todd Hutchison.

In the February board meeting, Hutchison brought up the idea that the board of directors should consider making the purchase.

“In March of 2015, we held a workshop at the Santa Fe High School auditorium,” Hutchison said. “We invited all of the community to come out and hear our presentation on a purchase plan. We had several hundred people attend that workshop. We had an overwhelmingly positive response. I would say 90 percent of the people who attended that meeting supported the idea of Turkey Creek Master Owner’s Association purchasing the property.”

The primary goals in the purchase plan were to gain legal control of the dormant and overgrown golf course property for maintenance, to seek a tenant to manage the 152 acres, and for residents to get free use of the pool and tennis court.

From March to October, there were hearings, appraisals, and finally a community vote.

“There is a statute that says 75 percent of the community has to formally approve a purchase, and October 14 is when we learned that we met the 75 percent threshold,” Hutchison said.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony represented many things, including all the hard work, lobbying, and investment in the project coming to reality.

The next step will be locating a management group for the golf course.

On Dec. 28, twenty-five invitations to negotiate (ITN) were sent to prospective tenants to begin the process of finding a golf management company.

“Right now the board has created two committees, a selection committee and a negotiation committee to help find a tenant,” Hutchison said.

The project has brought together hundreds of passionate residents and volunteers who have worked together to bring about the success of the golf course.

“We put together the scope of the budget,” said Renovations and Volunteer Coordinator Carol Walker. “We had walk-throughs with the fire marshal and with contractors to address safety issues and obtain a certification to occupy.”

Marianna Kampa, leader of the Landscape Committee, has invested countless hours with the volunteers.

“Volunteers from the community are key,” she said. “We cleaned up the golf course and worked really hard.”

The anticipated opening date of the pool and tennis court is April 1. This is also when the ITN review and recommendations are scheduled to be completed.

The ITN proposal deadline is Feb. 9. For more information, please visit tcmoa.com.

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CAROL WALKER/Alachua County Today Walker - Train IMG 1871


HIGH SPRINGS – For those who had model trains when they were kids and wish to relive the fun of one of the world's greatest hobbies, Santa Fe College's Community Education Enrichment program is offering two ways to renew acquaintance with this interesting pastime.


The first of two short, two-hour courses, “Model Trains:  History,” began last Thursday, Jan. 21, by exploring model trains from the early 1900s to the present.  The class is being held at the Historic High Springs Elementary School and Community Center. 


The second half of the course will be held on Thursday, Feb. 4.  The course instructor for both classes is Robert Watson, President of the High Springs Historical Museum. 


While the first class had to do with sharing information on the history of model trains, the second class will continue that theme for about 30 minutes before taking field trips to the local homes of two guest speakers, Sam Viviano and Pete Woodward. 


Both have a long history of model railroading, and each has their own train layout.  Viviano's is a Lionel three-rail, while Woodward's is an American Flyer two rail.


An assortment of interested people joined the first class.  At least two people were members of The North Central Florida Model Railroad Club, housed in Alachua.  Some were just interested in the topic, and some were trying to reconnect with a past hobby.  All expressed delight at being able to visit two train layouts in the second class session.


Watson explained that others can join for the second class and field trips by contacting Santa Fe College.


The second course, which begins Feb. 11, is “Model Trains:  Gauge, Setup, Care.”  This course explores the various gauges and sizes of model trains from G Scale to Z Gauge.  Layout, diorama building and model train maintenance will be the areas covered in this two-hour, two-class course. 


Participants will see a diorama being created by the course instructor.  The course will be held in the same location and runs from 6-8 p.m.


The fee for each of the two courses is $24.


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Joy HS Chamber COY IMG 1853

Photo special to Alachua County Today

L-R: High Springs Chamber President Eyvonne Andrews, High Springs Police Officer Adam Joy and last year's award winner Gloria James.

HIGH SPRINGS – Crinoline slips under full skirts, bobby socks, rolled up jeans and ponytails were the required dress of the evening as the High Springs Chamber of Commerce held this year's Annual Banquet with a 50s Sock Hop theme.

Disk jockey Michael Loveday provided themed music as Chamber members celebrated Friday at St. Madeleine Family Life Center. Hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cream sodas and floats were on the menu in keeping with the 50s theme.

One of the highlights of the evening was the presentation of an engraved Citizen of the Year plaque given to High Springs Police Officer Adam Joy. Joy, who hadn't known he’d been nominated for the honor, was surprised when his name was announced by last year's Citizen of the Year, Gloria James.

“I was told by Lt. Antoine Sheppard to be there and dress nicely,” said Joy. “It was a great surprise to be named for something like this. I am very honored and humbled to receive this plaque because everything I do is to help the community and not for recognition.”

Joy joined the High Springs Police Department in December 2010 after serving four years at the Alachua Police Department. He is also Assisting Elder of Anderson Memorial Church of God in Christ.

Joy organized the city's first National Night Out, the first breast cancer survival walk and the first 5K Splash Run to earn money for scholarships for graduating high school seniors. Joy and two other officers also founded the local Explorer Program.

Through his organization, Global Impact Charities, Inc., Joy is responsible for a $500 donation of school supplies for community children, donating gift cards to Santa Fe High School teachers for Teacher Appreciation Week, providing free hot breakfasts for elementary and middle school students at bus stops on their first day of school, and providing free meals on Thanksgiving in Alachua, High Springs and Gainesville.

When it’s time for report cards, parents of children who have made the honor roll in Alachua and surrounding counties can enter their child's name in a drawing to receive gift cards to local restaurants.

Asked how he manages to afford all of these donations, Joy said that people give by either going to his Facebook page, Global Impact Charities, Inc., or his website, www.blessedcharity.org.

“People who know us know we actually do what we say we're going to do with their donations and can review photos of some of our project results,” he said. “If they choose to donate, that's great and we really appreciate any help they offer.

“The best thing about going to the website is that people can see what events we have participated in and what we have planned for the future,” said Joy. “There are lots of constructive activities people can get involved in, and we welcome all who are interested in participating with us.”

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