Southside Festival gives residents peak at future plans

Autumn Calder (right) explains some of what Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency has planned for the Southside.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine
Tee Thompson (center) was among the Southside residents who were informed about plans for changes in their communities.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

Tee Thompson has experienced a lot of transformation in her community on the Southside of Tallahassee.

She reigned as Miss Rickards High School in the early 1990s and later graduated from FAMU with a psychology degree.

Thompson believes that she and others who live on the Southside will soon see even more impactful change in their community. Her optimism was sky high last Saturday as she listened at Lake Anita to proposed changes from several government agencies that are involved in laying out the infrastructure for growth.

The presentation that Thompson and the others who turned out listened to last Saturday morning was one of the featured events of the Soul of Southside Arts and Humanities Festival.

Many in the crowd had one main question: why is growth so slow getting to the Southside. Representatives from Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency had the explanation and plenty of proof that there is a serious effort to bring quality of life change, showing architectural rendering of what’s to come.

Autumn Calder, director of Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency, said there is plenty to look forward to.

For example, she said there are currently 11 different projects going on in the Southside, including the completion of the Capital Cascades Trail, Magnolia Trail Plan, a history and culture trail on FAMU Way that will have informational panel as well as a new skate park.

Apart from that, the Tallahassee Housing Authority plans to begin redevelopment of Orange Avenue Apartments by the end of this year.

As Calder fielded questions throughout the morning, she got a sense of what residents of the Southside would like to see.

“I think people are really interesting in maintaining the high quality of life,” she said. “What we hear the most is concern for safety, more bicycle-pedestrian infrastructure, traffic congestion reduction and better access to jobs and other services.

“People want to make sure that these infrastructure investments are reflective of the community they live in today.”

Plans for improving the area on the city’s south side also include the Capital Circle Southwest project that will widen Orange Avenue from Adams Street to Capital Circle.

Thompson, who has chosen a career path in construction, welcomes the plans but would like them to be inclusive.

“It’s progressing, but I don’t feel confident about the details because I feel like there might be some poor neighborhoods that may not be addressed,” she said. “But events like this today will allow our voices to be heard about those poor areas. I feel optimistic that we can implement the change and some tweaking a little bit to make sure that we are actually impacting where African Americans live.”

The lineup on the final day of the festival also featured neighborhood bus tours, zumba, a youth entrepreneur expo and forum, a tribute to icons of the Southside and concluded with a musical concert. 

Prior to a musical showcase on Friday, there was a fish fry, African dance and drumming and an afternoon of remembrance with a discussion on Black history on Thursday evening.

Christic Henry, the driving force behind the event, said that the Saturday morning conversation and breakfast was one of the most important segments of the festival. 

“I see people asking questions,” said Henry, Community Engagement and Integration Director for the South City Foundation, which promoted the event. “I see people diving deep. That to me is victory. If we do nothing else this weekend, this is exactly what we need to be doing.

“We have to be on the front end and proactive and making sure that we make the investment, then we advocate what agencies or organizations are established to bring the infrastructure and the values that we are investing in here.”

Plans to bring change to the Southside started back in 1998 when a “Southern Strategy Area” concept. But there is a renewed effort under way by the Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Department, according to Devan Leavins, special project administrator for the agency.

During the last month, the planning department has been canvassing residents to find out what they would like to see in their communities, including investments. The information will be compiled for the city and county commissions.

During the month-long survey conducted in the Town South Shopping Center on South Monroe Street, more than 350 people responded.

The information gathered will give city and county commissioners “something to go on to make future decisions about how investments are made in the Southside,” Leavins said.

Leavins’ post was one of the stops made by Rico Taylor, a Southside resident for 20 years. Seeing developments the magnitude of what has transpired on Gaines Street will bring value to the Southside, he said, but in the meantime he’s encouraged by what he heard on Saturday.

“I’m excited,” Taylor said. “From what I’m hearing, it’s bringing a lot of change to the Southside.”


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