Other developments could follow Frenchtown Quarters and Marketplace

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

With some funding secured through the Community Redevelopment Agency, a project intended to be the gateway to one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods could be the impetus for getting Frenchtown residents what they want — affordable housing and a fresh food market.

The Frenchtown Quarters and Marketplace is even seen as a potential driver that could spur a steady surge of development in the area.

The City Commission voted unanimously last Wednesday to clear the way for the sale of two parcels of land at $10 each. That followed the CRA’s decision to grant developers of the project $6.5 million over a six-year period, starting in 2023.

The agreement calls for the CRA to give $1 million annually, with a final disbursement of $500,000.

In May, the Commission voted to table a request for funding. This time the ask was for a scaled down project that has a price tag of $38 million.

The CRA’s membership is made up of the same commissioners and Mayor John Dailey who solidified the property agreement at last Wednesday’s meeting.

Commissioner Curtis Richardson said he voted to fund the proposed development because of what it means to the revitalization of Frenchtown.

“It will be a magnificent gateway into the Frenchtown community from Tennessee Street,” Richardson said. “It will attract business to the area and jobs will be created in that area.”

The parcels take up most of the southern end of property between Macomb Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard, facing Tennessee and Virginia Street on the west side. With the deal to sell the two parcels owned by the city, ownership will come down to Bethel Missionary Baptist Church and the Sylvester Davis Trust, which owns two parcels.

Related Urban Group of Miami was also brought on to assist with the development. The company specializes with affordable housing and has a track record of working with housing authorities statewide.

In addition to the funds approved by the CRA, an application for tax credit funding was submitted last August, said Tony Brown, a Jacksonville-based developer working with the project. Providing that the tax credit comes through by December, Brown said he expects dirt to turn on the project by 2023.

At about the same time, other developments are expected to be underway in Frenchtown, with the CRA’s recent approval of $6.4 million for Frenchtown Neighborhood First Plan. It includes housing, safety, health, transportation, economic development and place-making.

The Frenchtown Quarters and Marketplace could be the face of all that is planned for the area, said Curtis Taylor, president/CEO of the Urban League, which has its local office in Frenchtown.

“We see it as a good, sound project,” Taylor said. “What the residents of Frenchtown need to realize is that when we look at Frenchtown and the surrounding areas 10 years from now it’s going to look quite different from the way it looks today.

“If Bethel doesn’t do it somebody else is going to do it.”

That is unlikely, though as plans for the project have been on the drawing board for about six years.

“Even though it took awhile, I think it was the right thing to do in order to develop the entire block for the benefit of the community,” Brown said. “We feel great that our project meets every major priority in the Frenchtown Neighborhood First Plan. It’s affordable housing (and) if we do the market, it’s an opportunity for small and Black owned businesses. We hope the project will bring attention to other development opportunities in Frenchtown and the greater Southside neighborhood.”

“We are very grateful to have the community support and the commission’s vote of confidence.”

The project will include 130 units of affordable housing and 21,000 square feet of commercial retail space, which could be a public market or a grocery store.

The original plans included a medical clinic, but that has changed to an urgent care facility that is being considered by Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare.

 From the outset, public engagement has been a focal point, said Keith Bowers, manager of the project. Hearing from the public was essential to planning a project that meets the community’s needs, he said.

“We factored in what people felt was needed, what people felt was missing and all of that became incorporated in the plan that we pursued,” said Bowers, who also is Regional Director of the Florida Small Business Development Center at FAMU. “The fact that we were really able to get buy-in from all of the major stake holders in the community to support this says a lot about how organized and engaged the citizens of Frenchtown are.”

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