Having a thriving, vibrant “18-hour” downtown has been a goal of Tallahassee leaders for at least 50 years. We all know the stories: A bowling ball rolled down Monroe Street after 6 p.m. would hit nothing; for years you couldn’t buy a toothbrush within 10 blocks of the Capitol.
One of our goals when we began Blueprint 2000 some 20 years ago was to foster interior development and limit urban sprawl. With the completion of Cascades Park in 2014, discussion turned to capitalizing on this jewel of an asset in the city’s center. The first focus was on two city blocks next to the park itself: the site of the old jail and the block immediately to its west.
A proposal has been submitted by a private developer (that I neither represent nor have any financial interest in) to construct a multi-use project on both sites that would feature both downtown housing and additional amenities.
I served on the citizen’s review committee to evaluate the project, and was pleasantly surprised at its comprehensive nature. A few thoughts:
- While discussion remains regarding the potential project to occupy the current site of the city Parks and Recs department on the Myers Park (opposite) side of Cascades Park, that project isn’t this, and should be judged on its own merits.
- We’re certainly glad to have student housing in Tallahassee, but likewise, that’s not this project. The residential component is designed to attract a multi-generational group of residents who desire to live in a more urban environment with easy access to the arts, dining, entertainment and a world-class park.
- While the development plan is expansive in terms of the possible community things that can be included, these items will require public investment, and all of them won’t be funded. The job of the CRA will be to weigh the merits of these ideas with input from residents, and work with the developer to come up with the best plan for the community. The remainder of the project, though, will be privately funded, and represents a $150-million additional investment in downtown Tallahassee.
- In my experience, time is the greatest enemy of projects such as this. With interest rates rising, there becomes a very real point where the project becomes financially unfeasible, or important and popular parts have to be excluded. It will be important to come to an expeditious decision so that the project can actually proceed.
I don’t subscribe to the theory that any growth is good growth. The proposed project, however, would provide quality housing at a place where we want it, provide additional facilities for the park, and potentially preserve some of the historic nature of the area.
Only a few years ago Cascades Park was a fenced-off hazardous waste site. If we do this right, we can continue the great things we’ve started. I hope we can make it happen.
Mark Mustian is a local attorney who spent 10 years as a city commissioner. He is the author of the novels “The Return” and “The Gendarme.”Read the full story