Frenchtown Get Down brings new life to once vibrant community
By James Thomas
There is a new movement afoot to revive Frenchtown – at least as the place to find Friday night entertainment during the football season.
Frenchtown, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Tallahassee, was an area where local businesses thrived. However, things began to change around 1995 for the once self-contained neighborhood.
There have been several attempts to revive the area. Another round is underway this football season with the launching of Frenchtown Get Down each Friday night before FAMU’s home games.
“Frenchtown is the community our grandparents and great grandparents built,” said Rudy Ferguson, whose church New Birth Tabernacle of Praise is located in the heart of the neighborhood. “Frenchtown is on its way back now.”
There is still plenty of work to be done. There is the issue of crime, including guns and drugs.
Meanwhile, there are big plans to clean up the area and build a gateway with mixed-use buildings in Frenchtown. The picture paints a Frenchtown that once was and seemingly the addition of Frenchtown Get Down could be the spark the area needs.
Each Friday night there is plenty of entertainment – food and apparel vendors along with a DJ and live music by Tallahassee Nights performers. There was one stage for the first two Friday nights events and a second has since been added. Organizers estimated that 12,500 people attended the last event.
The ambiance resembles a gigantic festival as a sea of people flood the streets, while the blaring music could be heard for several blocks.
While food vendors seemed to be popular with the crowd, David Griswell of Flex Liquid Foot Insoles didn’t mind the traffic was slower around his business.
The night was more about what the event means to the community, he said.
“With this being my first night here, I am blown away,” Griswell said, “It feels like a family reunion.”
The event stems from an idea that producer Kenneth Barber had. With the usual downtown get down discontinued after several years, Barber saw the window of opportunity to revive Frenchtown with a similar event that could help the revival of the community.
“We have created an economic parody alignment,” Barber said, “It’s to promote local Black businesses.”
The Frenchtown Get Down is just the start of what is on the drawing board for the community. There are plans to put affordable housing, businesses and jobs in the community.