Chamber conference attendees to focus on Tallahassee’s future growth

From the Tallahassee Democrat

Tallahassee is poised for more development – a growing population, more jobs and an increase in spending among residents in the post Great Recession era.

Cranes crisscross the downtown skyline. Heavy equipment and crews churn dirt throughout the city and around the county.

But it’s not always a welcome sight. Restive residents have galvanized neighborhood opposition to proposed projects. Several neighborhoods – Ox Bottom, Summerbrooke, McBride and others – have taken issue with certain proposal developments.

Remember the Red Shirts?

In February, a legion of Myers Park residents filled City Commission chambers to lobby against a controversial plan to rezone and sell 9.5 acres of city-owned land. The change would have allowed high-density development in their neighborhood. Commissioners backed down.

Commercial real estate experts and others say Tallahassee is landlocked. The hunt for lots leads to small pockets of opportunities, with the exception of a few major developments.

Tallahassee’s landscape is changing, though. Some believe nearly every idea and initiative discussed at this weekend’s Chamber of Commerce Conference comes down to reworking the Comprehensive Plan, a blueprint for growth in both Tallahassee and Leon County.

“It’s time for the business community to get together with the commissions and planning department and determine where it would be appropriate to add some more commercial corridors throughout Tallahassee,” said Brad Parker, partner and commercial broker for TLG Real Estate Services. “The question is, where do we go from here?”

Parker said his firm routinely fields inquiries from companies interested in the Tallahassee market. At least 15 national restaurants have asked about the capital city, he said. They moved on due to a lack of available space.

The challenge is balancing the green, residents who favor conservation, smart growth and tree protection, and the gray, developers who want to build.

By 2030, the Comp Plan expires. A few years ago, local officials initiated a review of the land use components of the plan. Recommendations are expected this fall.

Leon County Commissioner Kristin Dozier, who’s attending the chamber conference, said she’s always mindful of the green and gray balancing act. She wants to avoid always being reactive to development proposals.

“When we’re at the conference and hearing about new developments that are coming and new jobs, all of these things have a land use component,” she said. “They meet the needs that a lot of us are talking about – jobs, new housing, new businesses, new opportunities for existing and new businesses.”

She’d rather take a step back and adopt a holistic approach.

“If we are always in a reactive posture, we’re going to see more conflicts,” Dozier said. “Some developments may happen, and others will be stopped if there’s a big community push back.”

And there’s a lot to talk about.

Eight retail development projects are proposed, under review or on the way, along with five hotels representing 582 new rooms, according to the Tallahassee-Leon County Office of Economic Vitality, which tracks major and ongoing and proposed development projects. Add another five medical facilities, including Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare’s M.T. Mustian Surgical Center.

On the residential side, there are 34 single-family housing projects. Two dozen new apartment buildings that could inject 3,425 units. And, with the city’s senior population expected to rise, 10 new assisted living facilities are proposed or underway.

Nine mixed-use developments, including the Cascades Project and Washington Square downtown, represent more than 2,900 residential units and more than 2.8 million square feet of commercial space.

Parker said more could be done if, for example, the Thomasville Road Corridor between I-10 and Bradfordville were zoned for office space. That would allow for concentrated development with minimal impact to residential neighborhoods.

“It’s time for the conversation,” Parker said. “The day we stop growing is the day we start dying as a town.”

Contact TaMaryn Waters on or follow @TaMarynWaters on Twitter.