Challenges Ahead

What’s in store for the future of Gaines Street?
If You ‘Vision’ It, Will They Build?

By Jason Dehart

OK, you want to take an existing two-way, four-lane road and turn it into a two-way, two-lane road with on-street parking and other amenities. Great. So what stands in the way – aside from making road improvements, attracting developers and otherwise changing the urban landscape?

{mosimage}“While we are extremely optimistic that we will be successful in revitalizing Gaines Street, there are factors that could impact our success,” said Tallahassee Mayor John Marks. “Some of these factors are macroeconomic issues which we have little or no control over.”

“The major challenge is to create an area where pedestrians want to come,” said Ruth Wharton, chairwoman of the Gaines Street Vitalization Committee. “Because what’s going to make the area work well is people walking around.”

The committee supports the idea of turning Gaines Street into a “walkable” neighborhood, one bustling with shops, cafes, restaurants, clubs and other assorted hangouts. In the middle of this anticipated community is a two-lane, two-way road with parking on the side, a safety zone in the center, and wide sidewalks for bicyclists and pedestrians alike.

That’s Wharton’s vision. Getting there, though, is out of her hands.

“I’m not a developer,” she said. “So I don’t know exactly what it takes to make those things happen.”

One big factor is how private investors are going to react to the corridor’s renewal.

“Items such as rising interest rates, rapid acceleration of the costs for materials and construction, and contractions in the capital markets can slow or stop private investment,” Marks said. “For our part, I believe the most important element for moving the process forward is getting high-quality projects under way along the corridor. The Marriott Residence Inn is a good example. This development will help set the standard for the rest of the development that will take place along the corridor.”

Meanwhile, just coming to a decision about the future face of Gaines Street took years.

In June, the Tallahassee City Commission officially approved the concept suggested by the Gaines Street Vitalization Committee.

That was a major milestone, according to Craig Diamond, Gaines Street coordinator and special-projects manager for the Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Department.

“It’s a major step, having gotten to that decision point and having them come to closure on this issue,” Diamond said, noting that the process has been bogged down in debate for years over the new look of the road. “People have a clearer picture of where things are headed, and now we simply have to deal with a practical schedule of implementation. It’s not going to be anytime overnight.”

Diamond said that Gaines Street will doubtlessly become “a cultural corridor, almost more than anything else.” But anyone making plans for this mixed-use boulevard is going to have to take into account the massive number of people who are going to be living there in the next decade.

“The residential aspect of this can’t be ignored,” he said. “FAMU is going to pick up (between 6,000 and 10,000 students). FSU is going to pick up another 10,000 students in less than a decade. And both universities are not going to house them.”

In 10 years, the student population at FSU will be around 50,000, said Mark Bertolami, FSU’s director for facilities planning and campus master planning. Something has to be done to accommodate all those new kids.

“We’re short on land and space,” he said. “We can’t house all our students, we can’t feed them, entertain them, or do all the things that students do. We do have campus housing, but not enough. We are very much interested in promoting student housing as much as possible, and we recognize the value of having students living closer to campus. Maybe they can walk, or take a bus and get to campus, and that reduces our parking demand.”

Marks said the Gaines Street Visualization committee included representatives of both FAMU and FSU, and the adopted plan “represents the interests of those institutions.”

“In addition, we continue to work closely with both universities as we implement the elements of the plans,” he said. “Gaines Street is being designed as a gateway to the downtown, but it also serves as an entrance to both FSU and FAMU. They have an interest in making sure that Gaines Street is redeveloped in a manner that is complementary to their growth plans.”

Categories: Business Journal