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Opening doors to the future and the past

W - Alachua Chamber Ribon S5000142

C.M. WALKER/Alachua County Today

Alachua Chamber of Commerce President David Flinchum cuts the ribbon at the ceremonal grand opening of the Chamber of Commerce and Museum as city officials and chamber members gather to witness the event.

ALACHUA – A renovation that began with an idea around 2006, is nearing completion in downtown Alachua. The Alachua Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center and Museum, 14801 Main Street, was the site of a ribbon cutting ceremony on April 9.

On hand for the ceremony were David Flinchum, Alachua Chamber President, Jerry Smith, first Chamber President and founder, and Building Committee members Jim Brandenburg, retired Alachua Elementary School Principal, Linda Rice Chapman, local attorney, Gib Coerper, Mayor, and David Pope, WACO.

A crowd of approximately 75-80 dignitaries and representatives from city and county governments, various Chambers of Commerce, volunteers and Alachua Chamber members were on hand to witness the ceremony and hear comments by Pope, acting as master of ceremonies, Flinchum, Smith, Coerper and Emelie Matthews, President of the Alachua Historical Society.

Recognizing dignitaries and company representatives in the audience who donated time, products and/or financial support to the project, the speakers thanked them for their support and talked about how they believed the Center would benefit area citizens and visitors alike. A brief history of the Chamber and a vision of how the various elements of the Welcome Center may benefit the citizens was the focus of Smith's talk.

“This is the culmination of an idea some of our Chamber members have had for a long time,” said Coerper. “We were offered an opportunity to lease this building from the city at a nominal fee when it became vacant in 2007. However, we had a few hurdles to jump over before we could begin the actual renovation,” said Chapman.

The structure, which was built in 1961, began life as a post office. When a new post office was built, the building saw some changes as it became the home of the Alachua Police Department.

The 2010 sq. ft. police facility was completely gutted during demolition. “The only remaining vestige of the police department is a small holding cell which was left in place for historic reasons,” said Coerper.

The building is now open. Demolition, code-related repairs, painting and landscaping have all been done.

“We are extremely proud of what has been accomplished here,” said Coerper.

Grants from the Alachua County Tourist Development Council and the Alachua Downtown Redevelopment Trust Board, plus a generous personal donation from Jerry Smith, as well as additional donations from the historic society and many other individuals and businesses helped get the project started and kept it going to completion, Coerper said.

Local architect Paul Stresing donated his time to work with the chamber to get the building up to code while also maintaining the integrity of the historic structure. Additional donations of time, supplies and manpower by people like Jim Brandenburg, who painted the entire outside of the building by himself, WastePro, which provided dumpsters during demolition and paid all of the dumping fees, plus volunteers from Rebuilding Together and the Walmart Distribution Center, who pitched in during demolition, were all vital to this project, he said.

The Welcome Center will also house a historical museum and a small Chamber office. Chapman, the fundraising chair for the project, and Matthews are continuing to seek further funding to furnish the interior and complete some outside projects.

“Folding partitions and display cases will help provide display areas for historic artifacts,” said Chapman. “Museum displays are expected to change four times a year and will showcase different aspects of the history of our area. The first display is expected to feature the early turpentine industry in this area,” she said. “It's an aspect of this town that many residents may not have known about.”

Another aspect of the Welcome Center will be a tourist information bureau. “We will provide information to visitors on the places they are likely to want to visit in Alachua County. At some point, we hope to have a computer set up with photos and information for visitors to help them learn more about how diverse Alachua County is and all we have to offer,” said Chapman.

A donation received recently from Linn Check-Mathis of North Florida Stained Glass, was a stained glass window, which has been placed above the building's front doorway. The art is beautiful and functional as well as it prominently features the building number and the words, “The Good Life Community.” Coerper thought the glass should be flanked by two matching sidelights and donated the cost to have those made and installed.

Meanwhile, Chapman has found, cleaned up and replaced many of the tiny missing tiles from the front of the building, which had fallen in the dirt below.

“Everybody worked really well as a team on this project,” said Coerper.

Although many people involved have ideas as to how the building could be used by the public, the committee will have to meet to discuss details before parts of the building will be made available for meetings or other functions according to Coerper.

A Wall of Doners is nearing completion by Chapman. “It is one special way we can honor the time, money and effort of businesses, individuals and the volunteers who helped create this space for our community,” said Chapman. “We are very grateful for all of their efforts and this is one way we can show our gratitude,” she said.

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Spring Fling draws people to downtown Newberry

ELLEN BOUKARI/Alachua County Today

A combination of beautiful weather and colorful wares attracted crowds downtown Saturday.W - SpringFling DSC 0061

NEWBERRY – While festivals were going on in other parts of the county on Saturday, April 5, folks who didn't want to brave the heavy traffic or lengthy drive required to get to some of them stayed closer to home. After rainy, gray days and cold fronts this winter, the near perfect spring weather was a welcome change that drew people outdoors to see what was going on in their neighborhoods.

It almost seemed as if the Newberry Main Street Organization (NMSO) knew how beautiful the weather was going to be as they set that date to host the Eighth Annual Spring Fling and Famer's Market in downtown Newberry.

Nearly 50 food, craft and fine art vendors were on hand to welcome the steady stream of visitors to the festival and Farmer's Market. Visitors found vibrant blooming plants, woodworked items, jewelry and a variety of gift and home items displayed.

A stroll through the Farmer's Market, featuring fresh fruits and vegetables from local growers, provided a blend of colorful sights and rich aromas. In addition, live music, bounce houses, the Easter Bunny and the new addition of a beer garden awaited visitors.

“A steady stream of people poured in all day long,” said Barbara Hendrix, NMSO Director. “We were very pleased with the turnout.”

A designated kids area featured face painters, balloons and a visit from Elmo early in the day, said NMSO event organizer Will Peeples. “The Easter Bunny was also in attendance and stayed the whole day,” he said.

Several areas were set up for people to stop and rest, take time to eat their lunch or enjoy some beer or wine in the Garden. “There was lots of food and fun for everyone, and I think the visitors really enjoyed themselves,” said Hendrix.

Another upcoming NMSO activity is an event called Second Saturday. Beginning on May 10, the monthly fundraiser will feature live music in the park from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. A beer and wine garden will be available for those who would like to relax and listen to the music with a drink. “Just like the Spring Fling, I think people will enjoy themselves and look forward to the music,” said Hendrix.

Upcoming NMSO events still in the planning stages include a barbecue cook-off in October, a fall festival in late fall and the always popular Festival of Lights in December.

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Newberry elects three new commissioners

NEWBERRY – The citizens of Newberry voted for change over the status quo in city elections Tuesday.

Over 26 percent of registered voters turned out to vote on three city commission seats, two of which featured incumbents who both fell short.

In Commission Group One, Ricky Coleman defeated Commissioner Joe Hoffman, who had served on the commission since 2002. Coleman garnered 53 percent of the vote to Hoffman’s 47 percent.

Commission Group Three saw Commissioner Alena King Lawson lose in a rematch from the 2012 City Election to former commissioner Monty Farnsworth, 46.6 percent to 53.4 percent, respectively.

Jason McGehee bested Barbara Hendrix 62 percent to 38 percent in the Commission Group Two contest to fill the seat being vacated by Commissioner Lois Forte.

The new commissioners were sworn into office Wednesday morning at City Hall.

Several issues raised during the election were discussed as part of a candidate forum on Tuesday, April 1, including what qualities each candidate would look for in a new city manager; what each candidate envisioned Newberry would look like in 10 years; and what each candidate thought regarding the city’s acceptance of grant money.

As the election came to a close Tuesday evening at 7 p.m., opponents Coleman and Hoffman were both optimistic about the city’s future.

“A lot of people showed up to vote, probably a near record number,” Hoffman said. “I’ll live with the results, however they turn out. We’ll work on patching up any recent wounds that may have opened and bring the community back together.”

“It was very positive all day,” Coleman said. “There was a great turnout, and it was great to see everyone come together for the common good. I want to express my sincere appreciation to the citizens of Newberry for coming out.”

Coleman, Farnsworth and McGehee join sitting commissioners Tim Marden and Jordan Marlowe and Mayor Bill Conrad to round out the elected city officials.

The mayor and five commissioners serve two-year terms, with three seats up for election every year. The two commission seats held by Marden and Marlowe, as well as the office of mayor, will be open to election in 2015.

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'One Day' was a fun day for local Kiwanians

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C.M. WALKER/Alachua County Today

A bag of prizes is enticing to children at Merrillwood Saturday. Part-time priate and club member Tom Hewlett determines which of these chldren was the winner.

ALACHUA – Kiwanis Clubs around the world join forces on the exact same day each year to provide a day of service to their communities. The day is known as Kiwanis One Day.

This year, Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe, with members from High Springs, Alachua, Newberry and Ft. White, chose to organize an afternoon of fun, food and games for children in the Merrillwood neighborhood in Alachua as their One Day event

"We usually do a cookout twice a year at Merrillwood," said Sue Weller, Kiwanis Club member. “We thought it would be appropriate and fun to do one as our One Day event this year,” she said.

On Saturday, April 5, Kiwanis Club members brought pirate-themed paraphernalia to share. Children wearing eye patches and pirate hats were sporting pirate flags and, of course, their share of “booty.” No self-respecting pirate would be caught without a pile of shiny beaded jewels to show off as trophies.

Club members Felicia DeCoursey and John Durr grilled tasty hamburgers and hot dogs for everyone, while others brought drinks and all the fixings and organized all types of games and fun activities for the kids. Two Slip & Slides were set up for kids in bathing suits, while some of the other kids were learning the fine art of bocci ball or badminton. Learning how to blow bubbles seemed to be an obsession with some children, while some of the others were fascinated by the motorcycles ridden into the area by members of the Alachua Police Department.

The club partners with the Alachua Police Department throughout the year to help maintain a facility at Merrillwood where children can play, do homework, get a snack or simply watch television in a safe environment.

“Maintaining and improving this place for kids is one of our Kiwanis projects,” said Linda Hewlett, another club member. Having been a teacher herself, Hewlett enjoyed showing off the inside of the kid-friendly facilities to anyone who hadn't seen them before. Meanwhile, her husband, Tom, enjoyed teaching the children how to play games they may never have played before.

“This is so much fun for the children and we all enjoy seeing the smiles on the children's faces whenever we come out to spend time with them,” said Linda Hewlett. “I think it's just as much fun for us as it is for them,” she said.

The 22-member club meets once a week in Alachua to strategize about ways to help their communities be more successful.

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CRA district sets sights on improvements

HIGH SPRINGS – Parking, landscaping and façade improvements are current priorities of the High Springs Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). The agency voted to direct the city to go out for bids for the creation of approximately 16 new parking spaces on NW 1st Street. City Manager Ed Booth estimates the cost to create those parking spaces will be in the $4,000-$6,000 range.

The city is required to go out to bid on any project over $5,000. However, if the city is able to negotiate a price under $5,000 with a qualified company, the city is not required to put the project out for bid.

A second plan to create parking spaces in the vicinity of the city's Police Department was tabled to the next CRA meeting. A detailed map showing exactly where the proposed parking will be located will be provided to board members at that time.

Earlier in the year, the CRA board set aside a total of $5,000 to help property owners improve the outside of their homes by repairing or replacing damaged facades. During the Thursday, April 3, CRA meeting, board members awarded facade grants to two property owners whose homes are locate within the CRA District for needed repairs to their homes.

Repairs or replacement such as roofs, windows, doors, or painting the outside of a home were just some of the types of improvements discussed at the time the budget for this fiscal year was prepared. As each grant would not exceed $1,000, homeowners would be expected to match the amount of the grant and pay the balance of the cost to complete the facade repairs themselves.

The CRA unanimously approved a facade grant of $1,000 to John T. Kennedy, 305 NW 2nd Ave., to replace two windows in his sunroom. Kennedy estimated the total cost of repairs at $2,610.

The board also decided unanimously to do the same thing for Martha P. Conrad in the same dollar amount for a roof replacement which is estimated to cost $6,655. Although she lives in Newberry, the property is located in High Springs at 130 NW 3rd Street.

The High Springs Historical Society, Inc. received approval to purchase $375 worth of landscaping plants, mulch and a sign to identify the brick walkway area constructed using bricks originally purchased by individuals in remembrance of their railroad family members. The walkway is located to the right of the front door of the city's Historic High Springs Elementary School and Community Center located at 120 NW 2nd Ave.

Two of three benches located behind the High Springs Police Department were also donated to the organization by the city. Volunteers will repair the two benches and plan to use them as seating in the garden area.

Currently, the historical society museum is housed in that building and the building is also used by the city and rented to groups and organizations for events and meetings. Historical Society volunteers will plant and maintain the garden area in the future.

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