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Sports-recreation-culture improve quality of life

How’s this for quality of life? Last year, more than 2 million people traveled to Alachua County and stayed overnight to enjoy sights, sounds, sports, nature and general entertainment, among other leisure pursuits.

“If you’re bored in Gainesville, you’re not trying,” says Brian Jose, director of UF Performing Arts. He adds, “We compete with cities 10 times, 20 times our MSA [Metropolitan Statistical Area].” Not coincidentally, Jose’s UF Arts is well regarded across the country.

Asserts Jessica Hurov, tourist development manager for Visit Gainesville, Alachua County: “We have the assets here.”

And there are numbers to prove it. Across the county, tourism’s annual impact exceeds $1 billion, and the hospitality sector accounts for 7.5% of Alachua County employment, while supporting more than 9,475 jobs and providing $318 million in wages per year, according to Hurov.

The Tourist Development Tax, or bed tax, paid by tourists in Alachua County has increased by 45% since 2013 and in 2018 reached a record-setting $5.3 million. The county leverages the bed tax to market and promote the destination.

What to do? Visitors and residents alike can enjoy more than 100 miles of trails, paddle the Santa Fe River, splash in the springs, bike the Hawthorne Trail and experience the city of Hawthorne’s new Little Orange Creek Nature Park, take in a world-class show at one of the many theaters, visit museums, go antiquing, and indulge in the area’s rich musical heritage on dozens of stages. (Check out Bo Diddley Community Plaza in the heart of Historic Downtown Gainesville.)

Meanwhile, the restaurant scene is “upping its game,” as the popular saying goes, and pints of beer from local breweries are spilling over with noteworthy regularity.

A few other sites of interest are the Florida Museum of Natural History and the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art on the UF campus; the 10-acre Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo; the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention (honoring inventors from all fields); and Depot Park, once a languishing rail yard now transformed into a public green-space that is dubbed Gainesville’s Central Park.

More than 160 nonprofit and philanthropic organizations work behind the scenes to help bring those assets and others to life.

And, not to neglect sports, there are the Gators (in blue and orange at UF), who field among the nation’s top collegiate athletics programs in multiple arenas.

Much of this has been on display throughout 2019 during Gainesville 150!- a celebration of the city’s birth that encompasses concerts, performing arts, history projects, public art exhibits, dance and community discussions, among other components. The celebration concludes in April 2020.

Oh, and one more note: Local officials say approximately 1,200 new hotel rooms are expected to come online within the next year.