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The character of Cascades: As mega-development rises, onlookers ponder park’s potential

from Tallahassee Democrat

Kids at playground at Cascades in Tallahassee, Florida

TaMaryn Waters
Tallahassee Democrat

Cascades Park’s verdant backdrop for weddings, graduations, concerts, runs and walks is made for moments, both minimal and memorable.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic hushed the hum of large gatherings at Cascades Park, but all is not lost. Power walkers zip by couples snuggling on bench swings. Children climb boulders and the park slide or take turns leap frogging across exposed logs in the sand pits. 

Yet, the backdrop is shifting. For months, onlookers watched the progress at the massive Cascades Project with optimistic or critical eyes.

Some say the redevelopment of two city blocks encroaches upon the park’s amenities and erodes its charm.  

Phase I is nearly complete. By March, the AC Hotel by Marriott should be welcoming guests, and apartments in the adjacent building will be occupied. 

Supporters see the $158-million, mixed-use redevelopment as a major economic boon for a capital city shedding its sleepy skin and inching closer to an 18-hour downtown.

Lead architect Jehna Winger said the community was always at the heart of its design. 

“For me, architecture is not just a building. It’s a place where we’re going to go and experience life together as a community,” said Winger, an associate principle at DAG Architects.

She imagined who would come to the park.

“What are they going to be able to do now that they couldn’t do before in that place?” she thought.

A lifestyle evolution

When Winger’s children were young, the mother of two often ventured to Cascades Park well before redevelopment ideas were put on paper.  

They explored the playground, followed by a stroll in the park. She longed for options, like more restaurants, to round out the day. 

“We would get in our car and leave, because there was nothing else to do besides that,” Winger said. 

She believes the Cascades Project will make the 24-acre park more inviting and attractive to residents who are looking for an outing or more housing options downtown, especially as Tallahassee attempts to retain talent coming from local universities. 

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