From the Tallahassee Democrat on May 8, 2012, TaMaryn Waters: “With numerous projects nearing completion and others in the works with the city of Tallahassee and Leon County, taking an opportunity to recap isn’t a bad idea.
“The Village Square created an outlet for that during its first Our Town forum highlighting growth and change in Tallahassee on Tuesday at St. John’s Episcopal Church downtown. The standing-room crowd of more than 250 heard brief summaries on priority projects, such as Gaines Street revitalization. Residents were eager to pose questions ranging from whether Cascades Park will have a dog park and when more parking and sidewalks would come to Midtown.”
Jan Sheffield, a Tallahassee resident for more than 40 years, said Midtown is her favorite area in the city. Although she doesn’t live there, she can understand why so many people flock to the area to eat, do business and take in the night life.
“This is one of the most exciting projects that has come around since I’ve been living here,” said Sheffield, chief of staff at Florida Commerce Credit Union, who said families in particular will want more sidewalks so walking is safer. “I think it’s going to bring a great deal of economic development to Tallahassee and it’s just going to be a fun place to be.”
Midtown, although praised for its eclectic shops and restaurants, has infrastructure woes. The area needs more parking and sidewalks. Wayne Tedder, director of Planning, Land Management and Community Enhancement for Tallahassee-Leon County, said $500,000 is going toward a project to create a plaza that will include sidewalks. Plans for additional sidewalks are slated to be designed next year and plans to add more parking are also in the works.
Ed Murray, a commercial land developer and president of Talcor Management Group Inc., said Midtown has the highest occupancy rate in the city. He said when rental space becomes available or a house goes on the market, it doesn’t stay that way for long.
He said another boom in development will take place once the Whole Foods Market opens at the former Miracle 5 theater location on Thomasville Road. He was tight-lipped about what other restaurants and businesses will populate the shopping plaza, but he said they won’t be anything like what’s already in the city.
City Commissioner Gil Ziffer, moderator for the forum, said the progress in Midtown is taking place at warp speed. He was amazed by the number of small businesses making Midtown home, such as the Paisley Cafe operating out of a lower level basement two doors down from What-A-Burger on Thomasville Road.
“A few years from now, you’re not going to recognize the area,” Ziffer said.
Leon County Commissioner Kristin Dozier said discussion and questions about Cascades Park illustrated the high interest the community has for the park, slated to open next year. She said Midtown and Cascades Park are areas where “we see the power of redevelopment.”
Dozier said Midtown flourished organically and now local governments are contributing with more infrastructure, better lighting and plans for more sidewalks. Cascades Park, a derelict downtown area that couldn’t easily be redeveloped, is getting city and county money to make it a public space and a chance to inject money into the local economy through ticketed and special events.
“We put the public dollars in there first but I think it will have the same effect,” Dozier said. “We’ll have local businesses and development go up around Cascades on the downtown side but we’ll still have the neighborhood on the other side.”
Liz Joyner, executive director of Village Square, said this was the first year the group has hosted Our Town forums, whose sponsors include the Tallahassee Democrat, Leadership Tallahassee and the Knight Creative Communities Institute.
“When you have forward-thinking energy, which I think we have a lot of, it’s good to be able to really grab it together in one place and show it off,” Joyner said. “Every year we are going to come at it with a little different angle.”