Article published Jan 2, 2005
Big projects revisited
Whatever happened to those really grand projects?
Patricia Crawford doesn't pay attention to the non-believers.
The Gainesville woman knows there are skeptics who doubt her plans to build a $400 million movie studio in Newberry will ever materialize.
She's aware that some would rather lump it with the projects that promise at the blueprint stage to be the first, the biggest, the best, but in the end disappear with little but rumors and speculation in their wake.
"You're always going to have the naysayers," said Crawford, who maintains that plans for the studio are progressing and that financial backing is materializing. "What are you going to do about them?"
Here's a look at five of the many large-scale projects to capture Alachua County's interest in the recent past, and an update on whether or not the big dreamers who spearheaded the proposals are still working to prove the naysayers wrong.
It would have been the tallest building in Alachua County.
Developers of the Midtown project, proposed for a four-block area at SW 2nd Avenue and SW 6th Street in Gainesville, hoped to build a high-rise complex in Gainesville that would have included a 26-story building.
Two shorter towers would have housed apartments for University of Florida undergrads and a hotel, and retail stores would have occupied the ground floor of the buildings.
UF grad Ben Schachter and his father, Marvin Schachter, who was a consultant on the project, ended three years of controversy about the project when they failed to meet a deadline in September for submitting plans to Gainesville's planning department.
Ralph Hilliard, city planning manager, said from the city's perspective, the project is now "dead, really."
"Everything has expired," Hilliard said. "The project, the process, is over."
The developers would have to start the development review process over with a new proposal, Hilliard said, and a new city height restriction would require them to apply for a special exception to build their high-rise building.
The Schachters could not be reached for comment this week.
They have not said whether they plan to file new plans for the project.
Crawford unveiled the movie-studio project in 2003, outlining a plan for studios, a performing arts theater, an amphitheater, classrooms, sets including replicas of London and Paris, special effects capabilities, restaurants and other features.
Then, Crawford called Springtree Studios "the future of North Florida."
A year and a half later, Crawford said plans are still on track to build the movie studio in Newberry, and said she could file plans with the city as soon as the fourth quarter of this year.
"We are entering into a joint venture agreement with a financier, the private arm of a major public corporation," Crawford said. "I am not at liberty to release the name to you . . . Those financiers have been here. They're been in the area. They have visited several times, and we are now launching our first couple of motion pictures."
She said one of those movies features Kelly LeBrock, who starred in "Weird Science" with Anthony Michael Hall in 1985, among other movies.
Crawford said she is considering several sites for the project, which she estimated could cost about $400 million, and still has her sights set on Newberry.
For now, she said, she's been focusing on producing the movies "that would justify need for a studio."
The Gainesville G-Men played minor-league baseball for more than three decades before the team folded in 1958.
The Gainesville Sports Organizing Committee wants to bring minor-league ball back to Gainesville, and leaders of the group say the project is alive and well.
Jack Hughes, executive director of the committee, said the group will determine its next step after seeing what kind of state funds are available for ballpark improvements this year.
"There have been, over the last three or four years, special appropriations that have gone toward improving major- and minor-league facilities," Hughes said.
"Winter leagues and spring baseball are such a large part of the state's sports-tourism industry that there have been dollars provided to promote them."
After that, he said, the committee will turn its attention to seeking public and private partnerships to help fund the project.
Hughes said the group has been working with the owner of several minor-league teams to secure a team to play in what would be a multi-million-dollar stadium on the campus of Santa Fe Community College.
GAINESVILLE ICE RINK
When Lester and Patti Burkett opened a new Skate Station Funworks roller rink at the end of NW 76th Boulevard in Gainesville, they planned to convert their N. Main Street location into an ice rink.
But they abandoned those plans when a Toyota-Acura dealer made an offer on the building, a manager for the company said.
"It's dead in the water now," said Dave Balogh, a manager at Skate Station Funworks. "It's really just something they'd thought about doing, but aren't thinking about doing anymore."
PRO GOLF AT UF
Before the $4 million worth of renovations that produced a golf course at the University of Florida that now ranks among the top college courses, there was talk of doing more.
UF athletics officials had previously discussed building a brand-new golf course capable of luring professional tournaments to Gainesville, said Bobby Pugh, a spokesman for the school's athletics department.
But officials apparently dropped those plans following the 2001 renovations of the current course, Pugh said.
"The plans were not necessarily to build anything affiliated with the PGA, but to draw in some more tournaments from outside the area," Pugh said. "It didn't pan out. From what I've been told, there has not been any discussion about reopening those plans anytime soon."
Residents may balk at projects that call for skyscrapers in Gainesville or laugh off visions of movie stars in Newberry.
But to the dreamers of the big dreams, the naysayers are just that.
"In any situation, particularly in an industry that a lot of people don't understand, people want immediate gratification," Crawford said. "This is such a large project. People just aren't going to see the day-to-day progress that we make."
Hughes, too, said taking a long view of an ambitious project is part of the challenge.
The committee has lured the state high school football championships and a regional air show to Gainesville, Hughes said. Why would minor-league baseball be such a stretch?
"The reality is that this is a long-term process, and patience is a virtue," Hughes said. "I tell myself that every day."
The planning officials who review such projects are quick to note that a lack of belief on the public's part has little bearing on whether or not a project succeeds.
"Generally, people in Gainesville are very peculiar about anything that's new," Hilliard said. "But there are things getting built every day that someone living in Gainesville doesn't like."
Susan Parker, a Newberry city commissioner, was president of Newberry Chamber of Commerce when Crawford unveiled the project.
Though she'll be wearing a different hat when and if the movie-studio proposal hits the Newberry City Commission for approval, she said as a business leader and a private Newberry resident she has high hopes for the project.
"I was thrilled to meet Kelly LeBrock when she was in town, and we are still very excited about the possibility of a studio in Alachua County, in Newberry," Parker said.
But she and Hilliard both said that when it came time for government review, all proposals were on equal footing.
"There are no wacky projects," Hilliard said. "Every project is treated like the same under city code."
Amy Reinink can be reached at (352) 374-5088 or [email protected]