Groundbreaking signals progress in redevelopment of Orange Avenue Apartments
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer
Before the Orange Avenue Apartments were demolished to make room for redevelopment, County Commissioner Nick Maddox had a good sense of what children who lived in the decades-old housing were going through.
He lived it while growing up in North Carolina. He even went into vivid details about how his mother cried when he asked her when their living conditions would improve. In her responses to let him know it wasn’t a situation that she controlled, Maddox said he found inspiration.
“One day,” he recalled his mother saying, “maybe you will be in the position to change the life of a child as you are and the mother that I’ve been to you.”
He can call his mother now and tell her he’s made a difference – although not alone – that will make home a much more pleasant place for children who will live in the redeveloped Orange Avenue Apartments.
Three other county commissioners, Mayor John Dailey and two city commissioners last Tuesday participated in a groundbreaking ceremony at the Southside property. It marked the start of work on the first of the three-phase redevelopment.
Brenda Williams, executive director of Tallahassee Housing Authority has been the driving force behind the redevelopment since planning began five years ago. Getting to this point took getting through a pandemic that caused supply chain issues. A lawsuit brought by tenants who became disgruntled over the relocation process was the final hiccup that THA had to overcome.
With her power team of staffers Tawana Thompson and Marco Young at her side, Williams declared that the rebuild will be a “transformation for the south side of the city.”
Phase I of the project will be made up of 130 apartments. Phase II is 160 apartments. The 290 apartments will cover a block that goes from Country Club to Brighton Road and runs from Putnam Drive on the north end to Orange Avenue.
Williams and the developers Columbia Residential projected that the first phase will be completed by December 2024. Construction of the second phase is expected to begin in January, Williams said.
“We are looking forward to bringing back all of the residents who were here prior to demolition,” Williams said.
The redevelopment is modeled similarly to Purpose Built communities in cities like Atlanta and other areas in the Southeast.
The Purpose Built concept has been supported by the South City Foundation.
“It’s really important to get this right because they are not just breaking ground on a housing project,” said Sen. Loranne Ausley, co-chair of the Foundation. “We are standing here; every one of us committed to restore this vibrant neighborhood in a way that lifts up those who live here now and hopefully those who want to move back.”
In addition to living quarters residents will have an exercise room, a community room, walking trail, swimming pool, business center, computer room and laundry room, and an area for outdoor grilling.
Each unit will also be equipped with washer and dryer.
“Those are the things that we are hoping that our former residents will come back to the site and enjoy,” Williams said.
Those who return will make up a mixed income community that comes with a price tag of $44 million. THA received funding for the project from Leon County government, the Florida Housing Finance Corporation and the City of Tallahassee.
Officials touted the economic benefit that the redevelopment will bring to the area. It is expected to create 1,000 jobs during construction, which will include minority and women owned companies.
“We are excited beyond measure about this Orange Avenue redevelopment project and the positive impact it is going to have on the city of Tallahassee; more specifically our Southside community,” said Kendall Jones, chairman of THA’s board of directors.
Seeing the project come to fruition makes the redevelopment “a very, very important investment that we are very proud of,” said Mayor John Dailey. “This project is absolutely amazing. Not only is it going to be the gold standard here in Tallahassee; it’s going to be the gold standard in the Southeast United States, if not the (entire) United States.”