Southside residents want development; just not Proof Brewery
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Residents of Tallahassee’s Southside have been calling on the Community Redevelopment Agency to invest in their neighborhood for several years.
But since a beer brewery decided to renovate an old coca-cola building, with the promise that it would create jobs and boost the Southside economy, residents have been vehement in their opposition.
They were especially clear in their stance at a recent CRA meeting, at one point interrupting commission Curtis Richardson’s comment on a request from Proof Brewery for a $450,000 grant. The CRA eventually denied the request on a 3-2 vote for interior work on the building located at 1320 North Monroe Street, less than a mile south of the Capitol.
The biggest question speakers had for the CRA was why fund a private business instead of funding infrastructure for growth on the Southside. Many of them questioned why a company like Proof Brewery, which has more than $6 million invested in the renovation, is asking for government funding.
“This business is extremely well capitalized,” said William Tucker a retired professor. “They don’t need $450,000 from the CRA. I just don’t see the necessity or wisdom of support from the CRA.”
Throughout the meeting, Dr. Edward Holifield, a retired cardiologist known for opposing the CRA’s existence, carried a sign that read “Alcohol kills babies.”
While Holifield didn’t use his three minutes to elaborate on the message in his sign, Maisha Mitchell chided the CRA for considering giving money to a brewery. Mitchell, a health care provider said she has seen the damage that tobacco and alcohol have done to young people.
Especially to college students, she said.
“I am really concerned because I see what happens to a lot of young students who come to Tallahassee,” she said. “Their family entrust their lives to us.They get a pretty heavy dose of drugs and alcohol when they’re here.”
That’s one of the statements that obviously prompted Commissioner Nancy Miller’s comment about the lack of support for the brewery.
“We have now become very moral about our judgments,” Miller said. “I will be supporting the fact that we will be bringing yet another dead building back to life.”
Miller and Mayor Andrew Gillum were the only votes for the grant request. Rahni Spencer Wright, former president of Providence Neighborhood Association, and Max Herrle of the Tallahassee Bar and Restaurant Association, also made arguments that the brewery is a good fit for the city.
The CRA’s denial doesn’t mean that Proof has lost out totally on government funding. Through the city’s Target Business Program, the Office for Economic Vitality projected that Proof could be reimbursed about $97,400, of the property tax it pays on the 34,000-square foot building.
Both Gillum and commissioner Nancy Miller argued that outside companies have been offered much more than what Proof requested to bring their businesses here.
Owner Byron Burroughs sat through the meeting and left immediately after the vote.
Richardson praised the owners of Proof for investing on the Southside and their involvement community programs. However, he agreed with residents’ contention that the kind of money Proof wanted would be better spent on infrastructure in their neighborhoods.
“Those are just the kinds of things that I believe the CRA should pay for a business,” Richardson said. “There are lots more improvements that could be made, improve infrastructure and the quality of life for the people who chose to live in the area.”
Scott Carswell, the owner of The Moon who said he sells Proof products at his nightclub, brought up concerns about environmental issues with the property. He expressed concerns about who would do the cleanup, saying it’s nothing like the city’s decision to clean up the building where the Edison restaurant is located in Cascades Park.
Refusing Proof’s request wasn’t a deal breaker, she said, pointing to ways that the owners would be able to recoup their investment.
“I’ve been very happy about Proof and have supported them in every way I can,” Carswell said, “but I can’t support in this effort to seize public funds for the last 7 percent of this project.”