ALACHUA ‒ A plan to refresh and reimagine the City of Alachua’s Theatre Park is underway. On Alachua’s picturesque Main Street, the hidden gem known best as “Theatre Park” has seen better years. An overgrowth of vines, a dilapidated arbor, and structural uncertainty have left the park in a less attractive condition.

The Community Redevelopment Agency Advisory Board (CRAAB) as well as the City Commission sitting as Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) met separately Monday, May 6, 2024, to consider alternatives for renovations to Theatre Park. A variety of designs were presented to the boards by Monarch Design Group. Among the plans were two overall design themes for the entry to the park. One plan would utilize Corten steel, providing a weathered, rustic metal façade in both the gap above the front wall as well as in portions of the archways. A second entryway design called for a black powder coated façade for a wrought iron appearance in the gap above the front wall and the archways.

In addition to entryway designs, Monarch Design Group presented a variety of accompanying interior elements for the park, such as brick pavers or concrete across the entire ground level of the park, lighting, a stage, seating, and Florida friendly landscaping.

The CRAAB discussed concerns with the park’s use and design. Without a roof over the park, rainfall can become trapped and potentially seep through into adjoining buildings. Use of landscaping requiring irrigation in the park exacerbates flooding concerns. Vines, which have largely since been removed, posed a risk of damage to the historic brick walls. The arbor, which once served as a tranquil and picturesque backdrop appears to be on the verge of collapse. Hosting live music in the park is untenable without sufficient shade and protection from the rain.

Based on discussions at the CRAAB meeting, Monarch Design Group and the City’s Public Services department plan to narrow the wide array of design suggestions and engineering options. While the plans have not been nailed down, the CRAAB seemed to settle on the black wrought iron aesthetic, a small stage with handicap access, and the ability to install a temporary overhead screen or shield to protect performers from the elements. Board members were also in favor of Florida friendly landscaping, maintaining the footprint of the current walkway in lieu of concrete or brick pavers from wall-to-wall. For areas where the concrete is to remain, the board members stated that they were in favor of clay-fired bricks or similar brick veneers rather than stamped concrete and other brick types.

Assistant City Manager Rodolfo Valladares, who is a Professional Engineer, said the City was planning to develop solutions to divert or dispose of rainwater, possibly using a French drain system. Valladares commented that the projected cost of dealing with the structural concerns together with needed renovations to other elements of the park vastly exceed the CRA’s budgeted $150,000, noting that it would likely become a multiphase project, with solutions starting from “the ground up.”

Located at 14900 Main Street, Alachua, Florida, what is now an openair park was once a drycleaner and then a movie house, according to a walk tour developed by Alachua County Historical Commission and the Alachua County Tour Service in 1986.

In March 2011, the Alachua City Commission authorized structural modifications to Theatre Park in order to make the structure safer. For several months, the park remained closed as a scaffolding system was installed over the brick archways on the streetside opening where there were structural concerns over the ability of the entry to withstand high wind loads.

The 2011 project included removing the top portion of the walls to reduce the wind load on the structure as a whole. The removal included the top 12 feet from the front wall and up to six feet from the side walls.

A report from Driscoll Engineering at the time stated that the outer walls of the theatre park constituted an “immediate safety hazard” because of the lack of support and risk of falling debris. The scaffolding system was a temporary measure to protect pedestrian traffic until more lasting repairs could be completed.

Costing in excess of $40,000, the renovations, which included repairs to the east wall of the park, construction of two new columns and reinforced fiberglass rods, were paid for by the Downtown Redevelopment Trust board (DRTB), which was the City’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) at the time.

The park, which is frequently used for special occasions and is one of the most photographed spots in Alachua was reopened in June 2011.

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HIGH SPRINGS – An issue that has been brought up numerous times during High Springs City Commission meetings may finally see a resolution. During the May 9, 2024 City Commission meeting, the Commission voted to modify a long-standing ordinance with a new ordinance that will allow alcohol sales by Special Permit on some Sundays by a business that doesn’t derive more than 51 percent of their revenue from the sale of food and non-alcoholic beverages.

Currently, the City’s ordinance does not allow a business to operate on Sunday to sell alcohol unless the business also sells food.

The High Springs Brewing Company, located at 18562 N.W. 237th Street in High Springs, sells beer and wine, but no food. However, they have an assortment of food trucks that park on their property to serve their patrons. In addition, Prohibition Pizza, which opened their doors within the past year, is located directly across the street from the Brewing Company. Prohibition Pizza can only seat a small number of patrons on their property and relies on the Brewing Company to provide a place where their patrons can grab their pizza and have a place to sit, possibly have a beer and share with others.

On the other hand, some citizens argue that Sunday should be a day of rest and quiet in the community and that allowing the Brewing Company to be open on Sunday will lead to loud amplified music, increased traffic and increased noise. However, there has not been a history of noise complaints, rowdy or drunken behavior lodged with the High Springs Police Department in the past.

In an effort to reconcile these two factions, the City has drafted an ordinance revising the existing alcohol ordinance, providing for a Special Permit Application Process for businesses that derive less than 51 percent of their revenue from the sale of food and non-alcoholic beverages. The ordinance is designed to permit businesses like the High Springs Brewing Company to operate outside the hours established by the original ordinance.

During the City Commission meeting Mayor Katherine Weitz read several letters into the record from citizens for and against approval of the amended ordinance. Some clearly thought there shouldn’t need to be a need for a Special Permit at all, and there should be no barrier to the Brewing Company serving on Sundays.

When the item was opened to the floor for citizen comments, some 15 people addressed the Commission on behalf of the Brewing Company being open on Sundays. Four audience members spoke against approval.

One of the people addressing the Commission was former City Commissioner Sue Weller who brought up technical questions she thought needed to be addressed by the Commission prior to approval of the ordinance. Her suggestions were added to the ordinance.

The ordinance originally specified that the “Special Permit must be applied for in connection with a special event such as a City sponsored event or a Federal holiday and is subject to administrative approval; if the Special Permit is not applied for in connection with a special event it shall be subject to City Commission approval, and the Special Permit shall not be issued for a time period exceeding 48 hours.”

As a point of clarification, the term “city sponsored event” was changed to “City-wide event” with Pioneer Days referred to as an example. “Federal Holiday” refers to the Sunday prior to any Monday-observed Federal holiday. Also mentioned was that the applicant could apply for several Special-Event dates at one time.

Requests are subject to administrative approval without the necessity for Commission approval. However, if the Special Permit is not applied for in connection with a special event (city-wide sponsored event, Federal holiday) it shall be subject to City Commission approval, and the Special Permit shall not be issued for a time period exceeding 48 hours.

Following approval in a 4-1 roll call vote with Commissioner Wayne Bloodsworth casting the dissenting vote, the ordinance passed on first reading and the city attorney was tasked with modifying the ordinance prior to second reading at a future Commission meeting.

Vice Mayor Tristan Grunder made a motion to amend the agenda to include a discussion to put the item to a vote at the general election in November, but the motion died for lack of a second.

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HIGH SPRINGS – On Monday, May 13, members of the High Springs Fire Department teamed up with crews from Alachua County Fire Rescue to hold a brief vehicle rescue course.

In this exercise, firefighters deployed several pieces of specialized equipment and simulated stabilizing and lifting a school bus.

“For our more senior guys, today's evolution was an opportunity to brush up on their skills and mentor several new firefighters who joined the session,” said a spokesperson.

Continuing inter-agency training among area partners ensures a cohesive operation during an emergency situation.

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On Saturday, May 4, members of the High Springs Fire and Police Departments joined in with the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe to help earn money for a good cause. At the annual Kids and Family Mini-Golf Tournament at Pink Flamingo, both departments got to show off their putt-putt skills in full force. It was a beautiful day to get outside and play while also supporting the kids of today and the future.

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On Wednesday, May 8, High Springs Firefighters joined forces with members of the High Springs Police Department, FDOT Northeast Florida and UF Health Shands Children's Hospital, at High Springs Community School for Bike & Roll to School Day.

Students who walked, or rode their bikes or blades, received free giveaways!

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ALACHUA – Law enforcement authorities are on alert following a robbery at the Royal Inn located at 16305 N.W. 162nd Lane in Alachua. On Saturday, May 11, at approximately 10:28 a.m., an unidentified individual entered the establishment, stole cash and left the hotel clerk in fear for her life.

The robber entered the motel lobby, proceeded to walk past the clerk, go behind the front desk and steal cash from the register. The suspect told the clerk multiple times not to move or he would kill her. The suspect then exited the lobby and fled the scene, running eastbound toward the Circle K/Wendy's at 16130 N.W. U.S. Highway 441.

The suspect is a black male, approximately 5 ft. 10 inches tall, of slender build and was wearing an unzipped black hoodie, no shirt, light-colored blue jeans with designed rear pockets, black shoes, a gold chain, a red bandana around his face and gloves.

The Alachua Police Department is requesting anyone with information contact the Alachua Police Department at 386-462-1396 or the Alachua County Crime Stoppers Inc anonymously at 352-372-7867, or their website at https://loom.ly/0vneUn0. Anonymous tips can also be listed on the website at https://www.cityofalachua.com/.../police.../anonymous-tip.

Citizens may wish to download the phone app from your phone's app store to stay up-to-date and receive emergency notifications.

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HAWTHORNE ‒ A 62-year-old Hawthorne man was killed at about 5:45 a.m. on Friday, April 12, in a three-vehicle crash on U.S. Hwy 301.

The crash, which resulted in one death of one, occurred near Southeast 165th Avenue, and left another individual injured, according to reports from the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP). While details from the ongoing investigation are still forthcoming, initial information indicates that a 26-year-old man from Melrose, Florida, who was driving a pickup truck sustained minor injuries in the crash.

Occupants of an SUV, a 38-year-old man and his 74-year-old male passenger, both from Charlotte, NC, were uninjured.

The 62-year-old Hawthorne man was driving a pickup truck and was pronounced deceased at the scene. According to the FHP, while the two pickup truck drivers were not wearing seatbelts, the uninjured occupants of the SUV were wearing seatbelts.

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NEWBERRY ‒ A 28-year-old Kentucky man was arrested for driving while intoxicated on Wednesday, May 8, at 11:50 p.m. after he crashed his semi-truck into a parked car and the front of Main Street Sweets and Eats, a bakery/café in Newberry.

According to the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO), driver Scott Mitchell Renslen was found with heavy damage to the front end of his truck, which was resting partially on a sidewalk. There was extensive damage to a fence railing, street lamp posts and two newspaper stands. ACSO deputies were on the scene assisting with traffic and gathering information to help with the investigation.

ACSO deputies had the truck driver standing in front of their patrol vehicle at the rear of his truck and asked what happened. Renslen said he had fallen asleep.

When ACSO deputies first approached the driver’s door they observed the driver passed out in the front seat. The officer made several attempts to wake the driver and was finally able to do so. When the driver opened the door he told the deputy he wanted an attorney.

One witness said she went out to check on the driver after the crash and asked him if he was okay. ACSO records report, “She said Mr. Renslen was sitting in the driver’s seat and would only stare at her and not speak.”

The driver said he would be willing to perform a series of field sobriety exercises, which were conducted on a relatively flat asphalt surface. Based on the totality of the investigation, the driver was placed under arrest for DUI.

His Miranda rights were read to him.

At first appearance, Judge Susan Miller-Jones set bail at $20,000 and mandated that within 72 hours of release, Renslen will be fitted with an electronic monitoring device with service to Alachua County.

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NEWBERRY ‒ The City of Newberry Commission held a Swearing in Ceremony at 6 p.m. on April 22, to formally seat the three incumbent City Commissioners who ran unopposed for the scheduled April 9, 2024, election.

Newberry formally canceled its 2024 municipal election after seeing no challengers during its qualifying period, which ended on Thursday, Feb. 15. Newberry City Clerk Judy Rice announced that the election scheduled for April 9 would not take place.

On Monday night, all three candidates were sworn in by City Clerk Rice. Rick Coleman was sworn in as the Commissioner for Group I. Mark Clark was sworn in as Commissioner for Group II and Monty Farnsworth was sworn in as Commissioner for Group III. Each commissioner will serve two-year terms.

Once the new commission was seated, nominations for Chairperson Pro-Tempore and Alternate Chairperson Pro-Tempore were opened.

Commissioner Clark was nominated for Chairperson Pro-Tempore by Commissioner Coleman and seconded by Commissioner Tim Marden. He was unanimously elected.

Commissioner Marden was nominated for Alternate Chairperson Pro-Tempore by Commissioner Coleman and seconded by Commissioner Farnsworth. Marden also was unanimously elected.

The Chairperson Pro-Tempore serves in place of the mayor if the mayor is not available to chair a meeting and the Alternate Chairperson Pro-Tempore serves in place of the mayor and Chairperson Pro-Tempore if neither one is present to chair a meeting.

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