Lewis creates development resources through Urban Tallahassee.com
From the bedroom to the web
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Taurean Lewis wasn’t the typical 8-year-old whose bedroom walls were adorned with photos of action figures or his favorite television characters.
He was more advanced than that, going for anything that had to do with development in Tallahassee.
What he hung on his walls would be considered boring to most children. They included agendas of city and county commission meetings, where the city’s growth would be part of the discussions, engineers’ rendering of projects being planned for the city and maps.
Everything was hung by thumb tact or tape. Technology has changed that and no one has to go to his bedroom to see it.
Lewis uses UrbanTallahassee.com, a website he created to keep tabs on what’s coming in terms of development in the city.
Friends who know him say it’s a passion. He agreed, but said the website gives him a platform better than word-of-mouth about what development is in store for the city.
“I thought the easiest way for them to know about it rather than talking their ears off was for me to show them,” Lewis said.
Lewis, 32, has been doing just that for a decade now. This month UrbanTallahassee.com, an initiative by Lewis, celebrates 10 years.
There has been plenty of growth from the days when Lewis used to keep pace of developments in the city by plastering his bedroom walls with anything and everything that has to do with development. Nowadays the site has a discussion board for its thousands of members.
Visitors to the site also get updates on construction of restaurants, retail stores or the progress of Park Place in northwest Tallahassee, a new outdoors mall that has been in the works for three years.
UrbanTallahassee.com has gotten more than local attention. Clicks are tracked to cities like New York, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. by Lewis’ count.
“It’s a great testimony to his generation; not only making a name or profession,” said Sue Dick, CEO of Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce. “He shows great ambition for the benefit of our community by telling our story of business and economic development.
“That is a very dynamic characteristic that says he is not focused on his own benefit but the outcome of doing his job really, really well.”
Lewis built the UrbanTallahassee.com site himself. He was inspired by the rap that he heard from most people his age about the city’s growth, he said.
“I’m a kid of the 80’s and 90’s so growing up here, we got a lot of ‘Tallahassee doesn’t have this, Tallahassee doesn’t have that, I can’t wait to move’,” he recalls hearing. At the same time, he was hearing a lot of questions about construction around the city that not many knew about.
In 2004, he decided to do something about it and created an on-line forum. It evolved into UrbanTallahassee.com.
“We needed a way to show the community a project without directing them to a complicated discussion board,” he said. “I felt like if I build this website that is more specific to what was being built they would come.”
So he invested a few hundred dollars to build the site. He estimated that upgrades he’s made to the site to make it appealing have cost him $5,000. He sustains it through advertising sales, mostly to commercial real estate companies.
Lewis, who ran unsuccessfully for a County Commission seat three years ago, has had his fingers on the pulse of the city other than through his website. He participated in the Knight Creative Communities Initiative, a forum that brought minds together to come up with projects to engage the community to get people involved and spur creative goals.
Out of that came programs like Get Game Going, the Tallahassee Film Festival, Greenovation (growing green businesses), and the concept of business incubators.
What Lewis has created in UrbanTallahassee.com should continue to grow if for no other reason than its usefulness in providing real-time development information, Dick said.
She added: “He has produced a product that is a kind of foundation for other conversation to take off from.”