GAINESVILLE – The official groundbreaking ceremony actually happened after construction was already underway, but no one protested. The occasion was nonetheless joyous, and certainly the fact that construction was happening behind the ceremonial shovelfuls of dirt being tossed only made the vision seem more of a reality.
Construction of a 6,300-square-foot outdoor stage and pavilion addition to the Smithgall Arts Center at the intersection of West Academy and Spring Streets near downtown Gainesville should be completed in just over three months according to Gladys Wyant, Executive Director of the Arts Council.
“These guys have really been busy, trying to beat the weather, and they tell us this will be finished within a hundred days, of course, depending on weather,” Wyant told the invited guests Wednesday afternoon inside the former train depot.
In 1992 The Arts Council purchased the 2.5-acres site and buildings that served as the home of the Gainesville Midland Railroad depot since 1914. The railroad tracks have been removed, the property has been landscaped and the old depot has been totally remodeled and currently serves as Arts Council office space and an event center.
The renovated venue has since been the site of countless weddings, luncheons, meetings, concerts and other sundry events.
“Its purpose is intended to provide additional user-friendly multi-functional space for music, theatre, dance, casual and formal dinners, wedding ceremonies and receptions, festivals, corporate retreats and much, much more in an indoor/outdoor space,” Wyant said in a media release.
Wyant said that private donations will pay for the project which, when completed, will be able to provide covered seating for over 300 diners while the concert grounds will provide space for more than 2,000 attendees.
Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan spoke and said the facility will fit perfectly with the rapidly expanding downtown landscape. “It’s just another thing that is happening in our downtown,” Dunagan said.
“We are growing exponentially like we have never seen it before,” Dunagan added.
Seated nearby, Lessie Smithgall listened and smiled. She is the namesake of the Arts Center complex and according to friends accompanying her, the longtime arts patron will be 109-years old on April 1st.
For more information about the Smithgall Arts Center, including membership, scheduled programs, rental availability and rates, contact Gladys Wyant at (770) 534-2787.