Opinion: Cascades Project is at the right place, right time

From the Tallahassee Democrat

It’s an ageless debate in Tallahassee – how do we maintain our charm and beautiful natural environment while promoting economic development and the jobs it creates for the workforce and our children?

It’s possible to do both. The Cascades Project, being built in a two-block area near Cascades Park, is a good example of finding that balance.

The city and county governments demonstrated leadership and vision in looking at land around Cascades occupied by mostly vacant buildings that are off the tax rolls. In fact, when Cascades Park was being developed, the idea of encouraging development in the area was always part of the plan.

Their goal was to pursue a project that avoids urban sprawl and instead promotes development on urban infill lots. The project site, in the heart of downtown, and adjacent to our beautiful 24-acre park, make it an ideal location for this type of smart growth.

The Cascades Project, which has been through extensive government review and public input for more than a year, includes high-quality apartments and townhomes, restaurants, retail establishments, office space, a wellness center, a boutique hotel and parking for both the development and for the public.

It will have an economic impact of more than $350 million, making it one of the largest developments in the region’s history. It will create nearly 700 permanent jobs and will provide market rate downtown housing that meets the needs of a multi-generational demographic, from baby boomers to those starting out in business.

It is a project that helps address the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce’s goal of attracting and retaining young professionals who fuel a thriving business environment. Our Chamber board of directors took a position of support for such projects just a few months ago.

This project will change what we’ve become accustomed to seeing around Cascades Park. Putting everything from housing to a hotel, to restaurants and shops in a two-block area means the building will be multi-story. It means most of the buildings currently in place and many of the trees will be removed, with new ones constructed and planted.

Thanks to the ideas and leadership from a citizen committee, the area’s history will be preserved and retold through a historical plaza that will be a focal point of the project. A huge, landmark live oak tree on the northeast corner of the property will be preserved. And a building that once served a historic purpose as the area’s health department will be saved, preserving its art (moderne) style of architecture.

It can be difficult to see a live oak tree or a familiar building removed, leading some to think: “Just put the project elsewhere.” The city/county planning department found that if this two-block development were built in a more suburban area, it would impact roughly 195 acres of green space, and likely many more trees. Such a move also goes against the goal of creating a vibrant downtown and using infill properties like those around Cascades Park.

Like most downtown developments, this project will be intensely developed from curb to curb. The trade off, as shared by local governments, was the creation of Cascades Park next to the development to provide the green space we want in our downtown area. This project is right where it should be.

Our love for trees and history hasn’t changed, but neither has our desire to create jobs and diversify the types of careers available in our community. The new Cascades Project represents an exciting, major new enhancement to our city and, much like the investment in Cascades Park, will become a major source of pride and investment for our entire community.

Sue Dick is President/CEO of Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce.