Capital City’s Vibe is Getting Stronger

— and We Have Everyone to Thank for It



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It didn’t take long. As a member of the 2009–2010 Catalyst Class (a group of local professionals selected annually to work on propelling an initiative forward), Revell was involved with KCCI’s Identify/Illuminate Tallahassee project. The then poorly defined Midtown was the team’s first stop. 

Scott Holstein

“I wanted to build these people a city worth coming back to. I had a lot of friends who left town and I was kind of the guy in the rearview mirror getting dust kicked up at me. That was a big motivating factor to me.”
— Jay Revell, Executive Director of Tallahassee Downtown Improvement Authority

“We came up with something called the ‘Midtown Action Plan,’ and for the last five years, the city has been checking things off of that list,” said Revell. “I think the long-term impacts of what we did then are still bearing fruit.”

The other component to their initiative was a bit more complex. As it turns out, helping Tallahassee identify exactly what sort of city it wants to be is an ongoing process. 

“I think that for a long time we sold Tallahassee as this sleepy little small Southern town,” stated Revell, who is a Havana, Florida, native. “I think that there’s still people trying to push that. But I couldn’t disagree with that any more than I do. 

“I’m from a sleepy little small town outside of Tallahassee. And if you go 150 miles in any direction, that’s all you’re going to find. So if you’re trying to sell ‘sleepy little small town,’ we’re going to get kicked by all the places that are actually that. We’re the seventh largest metropolitan area in the third largest state in the union, let’s act like it.”

Plenty of folks agree with Revell, including those involved in the very first KCCI project called Get Gaines Going. Along with the city, citizens pushed the Gaines Street corridor’s timeline ahead by 11 years through personal investment and encouraging local lawmakers to get behind major “sense-of-place” planning. 

Scott Holstein

“I think that what’s worked for us really well in Tallahassee is determining where there’s a need. Figuring that out has really paid off and allowed us to develop the craft beer market and build demand and brand recognition.”
— Byron Burroughs, Founder of Proof Brewing, Co.

 

“While the city may have been the initial investor putting $20 million into cleaning up that area and changing the streetscape,” said Mayor Gillum of the Gaines Street area, “the over $400 million in private sector investment that has occurred in that area has been because people have made intentional investments to create an entertainment district where people want to go.”

For businesses owners like Byron Burrough, the founder of Proof Brewing Co. headquartered in Railroad Square just off of Gaines Street, seeing the city’s backing of Tallahassee’s steadily growing coolness is enough to make him stick around. 

And that’s exactly what local officials are counting on, too.

“We decided to invest in Tallahassee because it’s a fantastic market as far as growth,” said Burrough, who’s spent years traveling the country opening concepts in the hospitality industry. “What the city says it’s going to do as far as the plans for city revitalization and Gaines Street revitalization and through Cascades Park, they’ve pretty much done everything. Tallahassee keeps growing and building upon itself.”

Amping up a city’s cool factor is in no way effortless, though. Wanting to be inviting is the first step, but actually getting there? Well, that can get a little technical and city codes often stand in the way, especially when that means reimagining what urban residential communities might look like. 

“It’s not like someone just decided to open up a wine loft one day,” started Mayor Gillum. “We changed city code, development code, we changed the densities of the urban core, we provided density honorship so that the higher intended use that you were planning to build, the more breaks you got. Then came fees and taxes and other associated development costs. That was a deliberate step by us from a planning standpoint.”

Where areas like the Market District or Midtown are concerned, conversations between merchants and residents often fell mute until a third party, like KCCI or the city, decided to step in. According to Revell, once the talks start progressing, the two entities generally have similar designs for the future. A safe and pedestrian-friendly environment is chief among them. 

“And when you talked to the businesses,” said Revell, referencing his days working on the Midtown Action Plan, “they wanted the same exact thing. But no one had ever brought them together to figure out how to work on the things we agree on.” 

Since the city’s core — Downtown, CollegeTown, Midtown and the Market District — is headed in a progressive direction, focus is now shifting to the outskirts of Tallahassee. 

Up next? Welaunee and the Centre of Tallahassee.  

“The great part of development and what’s occurring is that it’s not just one section of the city,” said Mayor Gillum. “It’s for the benefit of any one who lives in any part of our city. … It’s going to be extremely attractive to people who live here, but also visitors to Tallahassee.

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