The old post office that had just been vacated began serving Gainesville in 1911. It was and still is a very imposing building. Many were the stories one could hear from older citizens of the “good old days”… when Gainesville had less than 10,000 inhabitants.

– Gainesville Story, Jess G. Davis, 1966

Gone are the days when public buildings helped define our city.

One hundred and ten years after its construction, the old post office, with its six striking Corinthian columns, remains the emblematic essence of the city center. Its classic Beaux-Arts style suits its current tenant – the Hippodrome Theater – even better than the postal clerks for which it was built.

It’s also not hard to imagine that 110 years from now this sturdy building will still be standing and occupied.

We taxpayers don’t really build them like that anymore.

Which doesn’t mean that no one does.

Right across from The Hipp, the large hole in the ground that was once a dirt parking lot is about a year from opening as a new Gainesville hotel.

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Like the old post office, it is built to go through the ages.

Unlike the old post office, it is built without public subsidy.

Consider the standard design of the high rise student apartments that pop up around the University of Florida is a concrete ground floor topped with wood-frame floors. Designed to respond to current market trends, they are nobody’s conception of the Gainesville “look”. And they certainly won’t stand the test of time.

In contrast, the hotel that Mike Warren is building will have six floors of poured concrete. It is built to “green world” energy standards, which increases construction costs but ensures long-term sustainability.

“We hope this project will kick-start more investment and create some vitality in downtown Gainesville,” Warren, president of Gainesville-based AMJ Group, told me. “We believe that without private investment in the downtown core, it is difficult to see the town of Gainesville continue to develop as a quality place for its citizens.”

Make no mistake, this new hotel is a big deal.

That’s a big deal because this will be Gainesville’s first Hyatt Place, which makes it sort of a Lexus in a city used to driving a Ford.

It’s a nearly $ 35 million project, which is very significant when you consider that it all came together at a time when COVID had all but destroyed the hospitality, travel and hospitality industries. ‘event.

By comparison, the last major downtown private investment, the Hampton Inn, cost less than half that amount.

A pedestrian walks past the Hampton Inn & Suites in downtown Gainesville.

And that’s a big deal because it won’t be by the highway.

Alachua County commissioners believe it is timely to bring the new sports arena to the land of chain restaurants, big box stores and fast driving. Warren and his fellow investors are investing in the unique “sense of place” of downtown Gainesville. They have stayed at home as “smart money” continues to spread west.

“It’s not a cheap build, but it will still be around 50 or 100 years from now,” AMJ vice president Anthony Lyons told me.

This is especially a big problem because, in recent years, the fortunes of the city center have seemed more precarious than prosperous. This hotel is a transformative project that has the potential to reshape the fate of downtown.

Just like the old post office did in the ‘good old days’.

Ron Cunningham is the former editor of The Sun’s editorial page. Read his blog on www.floridavelocipède.com. Email him at [email protected].

Ron Cunningham, Columnist for the Gainesville Sun

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