A view from the chamber

Infrastructure pivotal to Southside growth

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

Pointing to a once rag-tag looking Gaines Street that has become an economic driver in Tallahassee, the head of the city’s biggest chamber of commerce said the same could be done for the Southside.

Sue Dick, president of the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, was responding to concerns that the Southside is seldom in the big-picture conversation about development. The question aroused following the chamber’s conference last month on Amelia Island, where little was mentioned about potential changes on the Southside.

 Million-dollar infrastructure improvements being planned by the city and county government could be the first step to getting investors to bring business to the Southside, Dick said.

“You have to plan,” Dick said. “Without the infrastructure in place, the private sector is likely not going to make an investment.”

Change is however possible, she said, referring to Gaines Street, where a hand-full of mom-and-pop businesses were clustered with auto parts and repair shops. Gaines Street is now bustling with housing, hotels, shops and restaurants that came after infrastructure changes.

 Meanwhile, minority chamber leaders and at least one community advocate say they would like the Southside to be included in the conversation about the big development picture in Tallahassee. At the same time, there is a consensus that the benefits of doing business on the Southside have to be told by those with vested interest.

“We have to inform that, as a community,” said Christic Henry, a prominent Southside advocate who also is Community Engagement and Integration Director for the South City Foundation. “We have to be at the table with the Greater Chamber, with the Capital City Chamber, the Big Bend Minority Chamber and other organizations to set the agenda and narrative for what’s coming to our communities and to advocate for the stuff that’s good and to work on the stuff that may not be a benefit to the community.”

Development on the Southside will be one of the topics discussed when the Capital City Chamber of Commerce holds its Advantage Conference on Nov. 8-9, said Katrina Tuggerson, president of the organization. The conference will be at the FSU Turnbull Center.

Currently, a few gas stations, restaurants and two shopping plazas with a grocery store in each, are the primary businesses on the Southside. All of that surrounds Florida A&M University, considered the largest economic driver in the area.

In part, Southside infrastructure was a major topic when information was distributed during the Soul of Southside Arts and Humanities Festival this past spring. Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency had a list of 11 different projects that are in the planning stages or underway on the Southside. One of them that could spur growth is the Magnolia Trail Plan. Construction of a 400-unit, multi-family homes project on the corner of Country Club Drive and Magnolia is also currently underway. 

On the opposite end of that where Country Club intersects with Orange Avenue, the current biggest development is planned for the Southside with the redevelopment of Orange Avenue Apartments starting by the end of this year.

Henry, who was the driving force behind the Soul of the Southside Festival, also said that the Frenchtown Quarters and Marketplace that is being planned as a gateway project, has to be in the development conversation. 

Henry and her husband recently established the Community Lift Institute, which she said is intended to emphasize economic literacy among Southside residents. They also plan to explain development in the community, she said.

Initiatives like those could get the ball rolling, said Antonio Jefferson, president of the Big Bend Minority Chamber of Commerce.

“We’ve got to do a little bit better job of informing our community and helping the folks on the Southside recognize where opportunity really is,” Jefferson said.

The change that’s being called for on the Southside could begin to come as soon as the Housing Authority redevelopment project is completed, Jefferson said.

A new Orange Avenue Apartments is “going to be transformative,” he said. “I think it’s going to build that momentum in south Tallahassee where there will be other development opportunities that improve the quality of life on the Southside.”

There are already some signs of that on the eastern end of Orange Avenue. An emergency medical facility recently opened near Capital Circle. Condos and the Veterans Outpatient Clinic also are on that end of Orange Avenue.

 More development could be on the way if the right people make the case, Jefferson said.

“We’ve got to be more intentional in how and what we are doing on the Southside; whether it’s shopping Southside or whether it’s supporting businesses,” he said. “When we decide to put our business on Main Street, we are putting our business on Main Street on the Southside and not say I need to be in the northeast or northwest.”