Redevelopment of Orange Avenue Apartments could bring big improvements to Southside
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
A post office is already there. So are five fast-food restaurants.
They sit between Monroe and Adams streets on the south side of Tallahassee.
The way Brian Keith, a designer with JHP Architectural/Urban Design, sees it, the corridor around where Monroe and Adams intersect with Orange Avenue could one day change the landscape on the Southside.
He figures there could be more mixed-use development in the area that would give it a feel somewhat like College Town off Gaines Street.
But the immediate focus for Keith and Ray Kuniansky is the redevelopment of Orange Avenue Apartments. Kuniansky is CEO of Columbia Residential, which has been hired by the Tallahassee Housing Authority to come up with a plan for redeveloping the 40-year-old complex that sits on 29 acres near the corner of Orange Avenue and Country Club Drive.
The redevelopment is estimated to cost $40 million.
The redevelopment of Orange Avenue Apartments could be the impetus for further growth on the Southside, said Kuniansky, whose company also got the green light to come up with concepts for the surrounding corridor from Adams Street to Blairstone.
“In our experience in doing this kind of redevelopment work with housing authorities,” he said, “when the housing authority’s site is a primary site, it does improve the perception of the neighborhood and others come and develop.”
Kuniansky, however, cautioned that it could be a long time before growth beyond the development of Orange Avenue Apartments takes place.
“The housing provided the catalyst for others to come,” he said. “But it takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s years in the development process.”
Kuniansky and Keith have been holding workshops during the past few months to get input from Southside residents. During their last meeting, they engaged a small turnout at Leonard Wesson School, showing the conceptual drawing of what Orange Avenue Apartments and the rest of the corridor could look like in the future.
Each plan was dotted with green, orange or red tabs. Several of the drawings were pasted with green tabs, but there were others with orange, meaning there were uncertainties, while others were rejected with a red tab.
Kuniansky said Columbia Residential has been reporting monthly to the Tallahassee Housing Authority. He estimated that work could begin on the project in two years, starting with permitting and infrastructural work.
Columbia was selected from seven companies that presented proposals. The Atlanta-based company has built eight other similar communities across the Southeast.
In addition to the meetings Keith and Kuniansky have had with residents, they also met with Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna and Whole Child Leon, government leaders and other stakeholders.
Residents like Perry West have been following the workshops since they began in August. He is president of a watchdog organization that is monitoring the process.
“We didn’t want people coming and telling us what we need in our neighborhood,” said West, who lives in nearby Apalachee Ridge. “We wanted to be the nucleolus and the driving force to get more services and things we need.”
West said his organization is concerned whether the workshops are being held in earnest or just a show.
“It’s like I’m going to paint this picture for you and I’m going to convince you this is what you need,” he said.
Gentrification or the exclusion of low-income families also is one of West’s concerns.
To that, Keith responded: “We don’t want to push out. We want the people that are there to get the benefits.”
“This is to narrow the choices and sizes to find the right fit.”
West later made a point of saying that he wasn’t in opposition to the development.
“For the most part, I think it is needed,” he said. “I think it can be beneficial and can uplift the area and make it an attractive place to want to come to. But we definitely want to see more community input and support.”
City Commissioner Curtis Richardson, who is a Southside resident, weighed in on the gentrification concern. He said his staff has been involved on researching how new development could affect Black communities.
“It’s a difficult issue,” Richardson said. “We looked at some other cities to see how they address the issue; what problems that were caused, what challenges were there and how they were able to successfully address those challenges. It’s going to be an issue that we are going to have to deal with.”
While giving details about the new Orange Avenue Apartments, Keith said residents will have more amenities such as a center for senior citizens. He also said housing along the proposed corridor plans would include units priced for people who get public assistance and others will be priced at market value.
Developing the corridor, however, will take the involvement of developers. That, said Richardson, could be the impetus for the Frenchtown Southside Community Redevelopment Agency to invest in the area.
Southside residents have long contended that the CRA should be doing more in their area. But that requires developers taking their plans to the CRA for consideration.
Richardson suggested that an ongoing FBI investigation into the Downtown CRA could shift the focus to the Southside.
“Given all that’s going on with the CRA and the money that has been invested in those multi-million dollar projects downtown, finally there is an interest in turning our attention to the south side,” Richardson said. “Expanding the CRA and using that money to invest in improvements would spur further development.”