Capturing the spirit of Tallahassee and creating an iconic sense of place in the downtown region.
In response to a Request for Proposals (RFP) issued by the Tallahassee Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) in August 2016, national developer North American Properties (NAP) — in partnership with Uptown Rental Properties and other local and national entities — has proposed a $158-million mixed-use development on East Gaines Street, north of Cascades Park.
Estimates indicate that this will be the city’s largest economic development project in recent history. According to CRA staff, once completed, the new development as currently proposed will generate an estimated $1.29 million in new tax revenue in its first year alone. Additionally, an economic study commissioned by the Tallahassee-Leon County Office of Economic Vitality (OEV) and conducted by the Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis at Florida State University predicts that the total economic impact of the project will result in $353 million in economic output and more than 2,900 jobs.
Project components include mid-rise residential, retail, office, restaurant and hotel space built to maximize views of the park and the Capitol building, along with pedestrian-friendly paths to connect the development to downtown. At the heart of the proposed development is “Festival Street,” a main corridor that can be closed off to support pedestrian-only events, food trucks, pop-up retail and outdoor entertainment. The preliminary master plan also features a wellness center fronting the park and a designated community arts and cultural space to support the performances at the Capital City Amphitheater and the events that occur in the park.
- Common Questions -
1. Where will the development be located?
The redevelopment project will take place on the Firestone and Bloxham Annex properties – two blocks totaling approximately 5 acres on East Gaines Street between South Calhoun Street and South Meridian Street, to the north of Cascades Park.
2. How will this project benefit the community?
This is an unprecedented project in Tallahassee that leverages the public investment in Cascades Park to perpetuate a high quality of life in the downtown region. Key community benefits include:
- Broadening the allure of Cascades Park by offering a vibrant, authentic experience of Tallahassee that appeals to a diverse population and instills a sense of pride in residents and visitors alike
- Generating significant economic impacts, including approximately $1.29 million in new tax revenue (as estimated by the CRA staff) in the first year after the development has been completed, and the creation of more than 700 permanent local jobs
- Strengthening Tallahassee’s appeal among young professionals and the creative class to help reduce the area’s loss of young professionals
- Highlighting and commemorating the area’s rich history, including the preservation and restoration of the WPA Health Department Art Moderne building and the creation of a large historical plaza
- Improving walkability through pedestrian-friendly pathways that connect the development to downtown and afford future residents the opportunity to walk or bike to work at downtown office buildings
- Elevating the Cascades experience for families with the addition of a new family restaurant, improvements to the fountain (“splash pad”) and new children’s play areas
- Expanding the capabilities of the Capital City Amphitheater by providing support space for receptions, storage, dressing rooms, catering and other needs that will support existing performances and events and help attract larger and more sophisticated ones.
- Expanded public parking through two partially underground parking garages
3. How will this project impact the local economy?
According to CRA staff, once completed, the new development as currently proposed will generate an estimated $1.29 million in new tax revenue in the first year alone. An economic analysis was commissioned by OEV and conducted by Dr. Julie Harrington, director of Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis at Florida State University. According to the study, the construction impacts of the project will result in nearly $300 million in economic output and more than 2,200 jobs. The study also showed that the project will create nearly 700 permanent jobs and an ongoing annual economic output of more than $64 million, making this one of the region’s largest economic development projects in recent history.
The full study can be viewed here.
4. How will the project be paid for?
North American Properties (NAP) will invest approximately $132 million in the redevelopment effort, which will contribute to the creation of a significant community asset that increases the local tax base, spurs additional development in the area, contributes to the goal of an 18-hour downtown, improves Tallahassee’s ability to attract and retain young professionals, and generates a total economic impact of $353 million and 2,900 jobs.
Because the project will incorporate publicly-owned facilities, public parking, enhancements to public infrastructure, and other public benefits as requested by the CRA, public financial participation will be necessary.
As requested by the CRA, public benefits provided by this project and supported through public financial participation include:
- Creation of public spaces and gathering spots, including a large outdoor plaza highlighting the significant history of the area
- Under-grounding of electric utilities
- Improvements to downtown sidewalks leading to and from the park
- Creation of food truck hook-ups and power hook-ups for park events
- New children’s play areas
- Preservation and restoration of the WPA Health Department Art Moderne building
- Construction of a historic memorial
- Creation of a “view corridor” that allows the Capitol to be seen from the amphitheater
- Increasing access to public restrooms
- Repairs and enhancements to the fountain (“splash pad”)
- Expanded public parking to support the park (beyond what is required to support the new development)
- Publicly owned support-space for the Capital City Amphitheater to help draw additional and more sophisticated performances to downtown Tallahassee
Public support for the project will come primarily in the form of tax refunding. Tax refunding is a mechanism that CRA’s can use to make large-scale developments more viable in targeted areas. In this case, NAP will invest the full cost of the project ($132 million) up-front, thereby assuming all of the market and financial risk. Once the project is finished, and after NAP pays its first property tax bill, the CRA will reimburse NAP a percentage of its property tax bill every year for 13 years – still resulting in a net gain in new property taxes collected by the CRA over the same timeframe.
According to CRA staff, once completed, the new development will generate an estimated $1.29 million in new tax revenue in the first year alone – funds that can then be reinvested by the CRA into blighted areas.
A summary of the proposed public financial participation for this project can be viewed here.
5. What is the project timeline?
Note: The following timeline is subject to change. NAP remains committed to working with local government to keep the community informed over the duration of the project.
January-March 2017 – Negotiation of Purchase and Sale Agreement (PSA):
On Jan. 26, 2017, following a public procurement process, the CRA board voted to negotiate a Purchase and Sale Agreement (PSA) with NAP for the redevelopment of the Firestone and Bloxham Annex parcels. On March 23, 2017, the CRA board approved the terms of the PSA and agreed to sell the parcels to NAP at a price of $4.28 million.
April-November 2017 – Investigation Period:
NAP will invest in extensive studies to develop a more detailed and accurate understanding of the cost and marketability of the proposed development. Tasks to be completed during this investigative period include:
Physical, Design and Cost Review:
- ALTA (American Land Title Association) survey
- Complete soils investigation including over 68 soil borings to a depth of 40 – 50 feet to design the foundations and subterranean garages
- Phase One ESA (Environmental Site Assessment), including lead paint and asbestos
- Phase Two ESA
- Structural analysis of the existing buildings including the Firestone and Bloxham Annex Buildings
- Tree survey of each tree and procurement of an arborist’s opinion of each large live oak
- Complete impact fee analysis including transportation, utility and schools
- Concurrency evaluation including traffic studies and utility analysis
- Energy audit including gas and electric
- Stormwater analysis including a basin study of the Cascades Park facility
- Interlocal agreement for parking facilities with the State of Florida
- Civil engineering design and opinion of cost
- Architectural schematic designs including opinion of cost
- Negotiations with the City of Tallahassee for the Amphitheater support facilities as required by the original Request for Proposals (RFP)
- Title review, including the quiet title action
- PUD (Planned Unit Development) guideline review and preparation of the PUD document
- Parking analysis for the inclusion of public parking
- Offsite improvement plan including sidewalks, intersections and utilities
- Negotiations with the Office of Economic Vitality
- Investigation into applicable New Market Tax credit programs
- Feasibility study including occupancy and average daily rate projects for the hotel component
- Market analysis for the residential component including unit mix, required amenities and rental rates
- Office market rate and occupancy study
- Retail restaurant negotiations
- Amenity negotiations including public open space
November 2017-March 2018 – Permit Period:
Should all parties agree to proceed following the Investigation Period, NAP and the CRA will work together to obtain development approvals for the project, including approval of a Planned Unit Development (PUD), issuance of an environmental management permit, a proposed CRA development agreement and a proposed development agreement with the City of Tallahassee. Each of these components will require public approval from their respective governing bodies.
Early 2018 – Construction Activities Begin:
Details will be provided when available.
Summer 2019 – Phase I Grand Opening:
Details will be provided when available.
6. How will the project address the historical buildings on site?
Three vacant, historic buildings — including the Firestone and Bloxham Annex buildings — currently occupy the property. The project team plans to preserve the Bloxham Annex building – the former Leon County Health Unit – in its entirety. Built by the WPA in 1940, the Health Unit was the first of its kind in the state, where interracial staff provided services for residents, including many residents of the nearby Smokey Hollow neighborhood, one of the city’s most important African American enclaves. In addition to symbolizing a new progressive influence on public health, the building’s architecture reflects the Art Moderne style, a style that is nearly extinct from the fabric of Tallahassee.
This building’s location on the corner of the site helps make its preservation possible. The same is not true for the second Bloxham building and the Firestone building, which are positioned closer to the middle of the site and will not be incorporated into the new development. After careful evaluation, it has been determined that the location of these two buildings within the site significantly limits the project team’s ability to fulfill the CRA’s vision and request for an economically viable, urban mixed-use destination.
The development team recognizes that these structures represent an important piece of Tallahassee’s history and remains committed to honoring that history. NAP has formed a community historical user group to explore the stories behind these buildings and help cast a vision for how to best retell them in a large public plaza that will be created within the new development.
The user group – comprised of educators, preservationists, civil rights activists and community leaders – can be viewed here.
NAP and the user group invited the public to share their ideas for how to honor the history of the site within the new public plaza at a Community Ideas Session held on June 15, 2017. During the meeting, citizens provided suggestions for stories they would like to see retold via permanent outdoor memorials, monuments and/or interactive exhibits. Community members were also invited to share ideas for what should go into the proposed plaza by email.
After thoroughly reviewing the ideas submitted, the Community Historical User Group and NAP design team worked together to develop a narrative design criteria specifying what should be displayed in the public plaza. This document will serve as a guide for the designers that ultimately bring the plaza to life. The criteria incorporates community feedback collected by email and at a public meeting to ensure the space will reflect the interests and wishes of local residents.
The following offers a brief historical overview of each building on the project site according to local historian, Jonathan Lammers.
Bloxham Annex (Former Leon County Health Unit)
- Address: 325 E. Gaines Street
- Year Built: 1940
- Historical Significance: Jointly funded by Leon County, the City of Tallahassee and the Works Progress Administration (WPA), this building served as the first permanent home for the Leon County Health Unit, which was the oldest in the state. The Health Unit was staffed by interracial nurses and provided prenatal treatment for pregnant women, childhood vaccinations for smallpox, diphtheria and typhoid, dental examinations and treatment for common ailments such as hookworm. The building’s modern exterior was meant to reflect efficient technical and scientific medical work, and was described The Daily Democrat in July 1940 as “a great monument of progress of Floridians over disease, ill health, poor sanitation, and poverty.”
- Structural Modifications: The building is a clear and well-preserved example of Streamline Moderne design carried out under the aegis of the Public Works Administration. The building retains excellent exterior integrity. The only notable exterior alteration is the replacement of the original multi-light steel sash casement windows. The interior has been completely remodeled and no longer conveys clear association with its use as a health unit.
- Future Plans: This building will be preserved in its entirety. Unlike the other two historical buildings on the site, its location does not impede the economic viability of the project as a whole or inhibit the project team from meeting the requests of the CRA.
Firestone Building (Former Leon County Jail)
- Address: 409 E. Gaines Street
- Year Built: 1937
- Historical Significance: The Leon County Jail is significantly associated with the Civil Rights Movement in Tallahassee. Primarily, this association stems from various Civil Rights protests during the early 1960s, when peaceful African-American demonstrators, including FAMU students, were arrested and held in the jail.
- Structural Modifications: Since serving as the county jail in the early 1960’s, the Firestone building has undergone extensive remodeling efforts that have significantly eroded its historic integrity. These include the complete removal of interior features, as well as exterior alterations, including the replacement of all windows. A previous application to include the building on the National Register of Historic places was rejected.
- Future Plans: This building will not be incorporated into the new development because its location near the center of the site impedes the economic potential of the project and inhibits the development team from meeting the requests of the CRA. Preserving any portion (including the facade) of the building would mean NAP could not build on top of the structure, nor could they build parking underneath it. Therefore, NAP cannot retain this structure and still create an economically viable, urban mixed-use destination as has been requested by the CRA. Further, as stated above, the building has undergone extensive structural modifications that have stripped away its historical integrity. While its physical history is no longer intact, the stories the building represents will be permanently remembered in a public plaza within the new development.
Bloxham Annex A / DNR Douglas Building (Former WPA District Offices)
- Address: 319 E. Gaines Street
- Year Built: 1939
- Historical Significance: This building was originally constructed as the Works Projects Administration (WPA) District Offices. The WPA was created in 1935 as the largest and most ambitious of the New Deal programs designed to provide jobs and improve infrastructure during the Great Depression. It worked in tandem with similar federal programs, including the Public Works Administration (PWA). In Tallahassee, the WPA or PWA funded numerous civic projects, including the Leon County Jail, Leon High School, the Leon County Health Unit, the Leon County Armory, an addition to the old Florida Capitol and the Dining Hall at Florida State University.
- Structural Modifications: As with the former Leon County Health Unit, of which it is a semi-twin, the building is a clear and well-preserved example of Streamline Moderne design. The only notable exterior alteration is the replacement of the original windows, and potentially the alteration of a wall at the basement level on the east facade. The interior has been completely remodeled and no longer conveys clear association with its original use.
- Future Plans: This building will not be incorporated into the new development. Due to its location on the project site, preserving any portion of this structure would impede the economic viability of the project as a whole and inhibit the project team from meeting the requests of the CRA. The stories associated with the entire site will be permanently remembered in a public plaza within the new development.
For more background on the histories of the buildings, view a historical report here.
You can view photos of a May 5, 2017 Community Historical User Group meeting and tour here.
7. How will the Civil Rights Movement events that occurred at the Old Leon County Jail be commemorated?
As the site of the nation’s first nonviolent jail-in during the Civil Rights Movement, the property is steeped in historical significance. Prominent Civil Rights leader Patricia Stephens Due and other activists were held at the jail formerly housed in the Firestone Building for a time following their involvement at the Woolworth sit-ins. It was during her incarceration that Due penned the famous “Letter from a Leon County Jail” that inspired a personal response from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As a part of the RFP process, NAP sought input from individuals intimately familiar with the history of the property. Moving forward, the project team will collaborate with local government and the community to cast the vision for a Civil Rights Memorial housed in a public plaza that will commemorate the bravery of Patricia Stephens Due and other activists at the jail in 1960 and educate Tallahassee residents and visitors of their importance.
To learn more about this process, please see Question 6.
8. Will the landmark live oak tree on the northeast corner of the site be preserved?Yes. NAP is committed to preserving the large live oak tree on the northeast corner of the property as required by the CRA. The development team is working closely with an arborist to create a protection plan that ensures the tree will be fully protected during construction.
9. Will the fountain (“splash pad”) or the adjacent public restroom facilities be affected by the project?
The city has asked NAP to consider making repairs and enhancements to the fountain (splash pad), specifically concerning the pumps and electrical wiring. The details of that request are still being explored. NAP recognizes the importance and popularity of this fountain – especially to families with young children – and wants to ensure it continues to be a fun feature at Cascades Park.
There has been some discussion of potential modifications to the building adjacent to the splash pad that houses the public restrooms, though no final decisions have been made. At a minimum, new public restrooms will be added to the area to support the fountain, the park and the new development.
Please subscribe for updates at the bottom of this page to remain informed on this and other aspects of the project.
10. What kind of housing will be offered at the new development?
The residential component of the project will seek to attract a broad range of people who desire to live year-round in quality, modern housing at the heart of Tallahassee’s newest hub of entertainment, arts and culture. Housing options will likely include market rate apartments for rent and a handful of condominium units – both offering stellar views of either the park or downtown.
11. How do we know these residences won’t end up vacant for most of the year, like some other residential buildings downtown?
NAP holds extensive experience developing successful mixed-use projects on public parks and fully understands the symbiotic relationship that must exist between the park and the development, with each spurring activity in the other. The goal of this project is to breathe life into Cascades Park and the downtown area, making them hubs of economic activity, growth and overall vitality. NAP is committed to working with the City of Tallahassee to increase the number and types of events held at the park and at the new development. NAP is also considering strategies to limit seasonal residents.
12. What type of businesses will be located there?
Further supporting the 18-hour enjoyment of the downtown area, options like a wellness center, retail shops, restaurants, office and hotel spaces are being explored.
According to the preliminary site plan, these entities will be clustered around “Festival Street,” which will serve as the focal point of the development. Specific strategies such as food truck vendor support, pop-up retail and family-friendly recreation and play spaces will encourage greater activation and enjoyment of Cascades Park.
It is important for community and government stakeholders to understand that all ideas, schematics and site plans that have been produced so far are still in the preliminary stages, and no final determination has been made regarding the design of the proposed development. As of March 2017, NAP began investing in site inspections, environmental assessments, market research and other related studies to determine what is economically and logistically feasible to build, and appropriate for the market. As NAP movies through this process, its representatives will continue to meet with and gather input from local government and other stakeholders before bringing final site plans and architectural renderings before the CRA board.
13. Will the new development contain arts and cultural components?
In addition to the hospitality and retail opportunities available, the development will honor Tallahassee’s commitment to the arts by expanding the entertainment and cultural functions of Cascades Park through a designated amphitheater support space. Discussions with local government regarding this space are currently underway.
If you represent a local arts organization and have questions or ideas about how your organization might be involved with this development, please contact the Tallahassee Community Redevelopment Agency at 850-891-8357.
14. Where will people park once the development is completed?
The current site plan calls for approximately 1,000 parking spaces. These spaces will exist both underground and in a garage that will be mostly concealed by the exterior of the development with little visibility from the streets, which will enhance the aesthetic of the overall project.
15. What will the development look like?
The first iteration of the architectural renderings for the project can be viewed below. It is important to remember that this project is in the initial design stages and that these renderings are preliminary and subject to change. Any design put forward will adhere to the Gaines Street Urban Design Guidelines established by the City of Tallahassee and must be approved by local government.
The design draws from the surrounding downtown buildings, historical structures and the nearby Edison restaurant to create a compatible but distinct character unique to the Cascades District, with special attention paid to street-level character. High-quality exterior materials reflect a sense of permanence and respect the civic pride for Cascades Park. The buildings, aligned along an open corridor connecting downtown Tallahassee and Cascades Park, offer ample space for outdoor dining, retail displays, and picturesque landscaping, lighting and water features – all of which will contribute to a dynamic pedestrian experience.
The largest buildings are divided into different masses to temper the overall scale of the development and stimulate visual interest. The corner towers, with their subtle variations, stand as beacons of light to celebrate the gateway between the city and the park.
Regular and harmonious repetition of architectural elements create a rhythm along the streets and park edges, with elegant patterns of light filtering through the glass at night. Charming balconies along office, residential, and public spaces promote enjoyment of the active park and reinforce a sense of safety for pedestrians with “eyes on the street.”
The design will continue to evolve over the next 6 to 8 months as NAP works to make this development something everyone can be proud of.
If you would like to be notified as the design process progresses, please subscribe for project updates at the bottom of this page.
16. Will the public have an opportunity to provide input on the final vision for the project?
Yes, in accordance with the government-led public process that will ensue in the coming months. Interested residents are encouraged to attend public meetings as they are scheduled.
The Tallahassee CRA meeting schedule can be viewed here.
17. Will the area be safe for pedestrians and bicyclists?
The development will improve the walkability of the area with pedestrian friendly pathways and support for multi-modal transportation that will connect the development to downtown. Bicyclists will enjoy connection to Tallahassee’s extensive bicycle paths. Additionally, residents will have the opportunity to walk or ride their bikes to work at downtown offices.
18. How was the developer selected?
The Tallahassee Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the sale and redevelopment of the Firestone and Bloxham Annex properties in February 2016. After receiving no responses, the CRA re-issued the RFP in August 2016. North American Properties was the only respondent to the second RFP and was invited to present their proposal to the RFP selection committee for evaluation in December 2016, and eventually to the CRA Board for a vote in January 2017.
19. Who is North American Properties?
Founded in 1954, North American Properties (NAP) is a privately-held, multi-regional real estate operating company that has acquired, developed and managed retail, multifamily, mixed-use and office properties across the U.S. The company also holds extensive experience developing successful mixed-use projects surrounding public parks, including the Historic Fourth Ward Park in Atlanta and Centennial Park in Nashville.
Locally, NAP has invested more than $150 million in large-scale, mixed-use developments in Tallahassee since 2013, specifically in the Gaines Street District. These projects have collectively created more than 800 construction jobs and nearly 200 permanent ongoing jobs, with a total annual economic impact of more than $17 million. Most recently, the company relocated Tallahassee-based J.H. Dowling Construction Materials from their office on Madison Street to a more efficient facility on Jackson Bluff Road through adaptive reuse of two vacant buildings. The relocation enabled the 70-year-old, family-owned company to remain in business and expand its local presence.
For more information about NAP, visit www.naproperties.com.