Florida lawmaker proposes amendment to make The Swamp Restaurant a landmark

Luxury student housing may lead to demolition

Karina Elwood, Alligator Staff Writer | Apr 18, 2019 Updated Apr 19, 2019

People eat at The Swamp Restaurant Thursday. Rep. Anthony Sabatini, of Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida, proposed a bill that would make the restaurant a historic landmark.  Aaron Ritter / Alligator Staff

People eat at The Swamp Restaurant Thursday. Rep. Anthony Sabatini, of Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida, proposed a bill that would make the restaurant a historic landmark.

Aaron Ritter / Alligator Staff

Change may be coming to Midtown, and Gators are trying to stop it.

A UF student started a petition to stop the destruction of The Swamp Restaurant, and a Florida lawmaker proposed legislation to make it a heritage landmark.

These actions come after 908 Group, a real estate development firm which constructed The Nine at Gainesville student apartments, announced plans Tuesday to build a “luxury” student apartment complex where The Swamp Restaurant, Grill Fresh, a United States Postal Service Office and Chain Reaction Bicycles reside, according to a WUFT News report.

The 908 Group could not be reached for comment after multiple phone calls.

Chip Skinner, a city of Gainesville spokesperson, said plans have not been submitted to the city yet and nothing can be done until then.

Ron DeFilippo, The Swamp Restaurant owner, said the restaurant has a month-to-month lease. He has heard similar rumors for years. This is the first time he has ever seen plans.

Raleigh Faust, the owner of Chain Reaction Bicycles, said nothing is final yet. He has owned the bike shop since 1997 and said he has heard similar rumors for years.

“I want to stay as long as I can,” Faust said. “I don’t want to move, but if I have to, I have to.”

City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, who represents the area where Midtown is located, said he thinks bringing more student housing around campus is a good thing, but he wants to search for solutions to incorporate the old buildings into the new development.

Florida House Rep. Anthony Sabatini, of Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida, proposed an amendment to House Bill 7103, which focuses on property development and related issues. It would protect The Swamp Restaurant from demolition.

The proposed amendment would make The Swamp Restaurant a Florida Heritage Landmark. It states that the city or county may not issue a development order for the destruction or demolition of The Swamp Restaurant, unless a law, order, ordinance or rule allows it.

The city or county would have to pay a $10 million fine if they submit such a development order.

The fine would be paid to a fund that would be given to UF Student Government.

“I don’t think you realize just how big the Gator Nation is,” Sabatini said. “It’s gigantic. People are livid. They’re very, very angry.”

Sabatini said he made the proposal because he went to UF and doesn’t want to see a historic part of the city turned into apartments.

“The city just needs to do the right thing and not allow that kind of development,” Sabatini said. “It destroys the historic character of that block.”

The House will be voting on the bill next week.

Before Sabatini was involved, Daniel Weldon found his own way to take action.

Weldon, a 22-year-old UF political science and history senior, started a petition Wednesday on Change.org called “Save Swamp Restaurant Gainesville,” which had received more than 21,000 signatures by Thursday evening.

“We’re showing that there are so many people who don’t want to see this happen,” Weldon said. “The Swamp is kind of the heart of UF.”

DeFilippo said he’s flattered by all the support but doesn’t think the action will come fast enough to stop the proposed development.

“I love that people are behind it,” DeFilippo said. “We’ve gotten over 20,000 hits on our Facebook page. It’s wild.”

DeFilippo hopes The Swamp Restaurant will be around long enough to celebrate its 25th anniversary on Dec. 30, which is also his 70th birthday.

The restaurant has become a Gainesville staple, he said. He was amazed by all the community support and how much students and residents want The Swamp Restaurant to stay.

“They have learned everything. Their first drink, their first kiss, their first boyfriend or girlfriend,” DeFilippo said. “It’s a great experience going to the University of Florida and hanging out at The Swamp.”