Community Input Sought for Firestone Redevelopment

May 2, 2017

One of the major developers of Tallahassee’s Collegetown is about to launch another big project further east on Gaines Street. It will sit amongst some of the city’s most historic buildings and border the town’s recreational crown jewel.

The unique Art Deco entrance of the now-vacant Firestone Building, which began life as the Leon County Jail in the 1930s.
Credit Tom Flanigan

Shawn McIntyre is the managing Florida partner of North American Properties. He said it was the combination of private developers like his with the City of Tallahassee, Leon County, Blueprint 2000 and the Community Redevelopment Agency that made the total and massive makeover of West Gaines and Madison streets a reality.

“What it did was to allow developers like myself and Allen Hooper at College Town and with Andy Miller of the Seminole Boosters to re-invent that couple-of-block area and what it did was take an area that was generating maybe $2-300,000 of tax revenue a year and is now generating $4-5 million a year.”

And without the public/private relationships forged during that project, McIntyre added, his company’s next big development, if not impossible, would surely be a lot tougher to pull off, mainly because it involves a land swap.

“That relationship with the City of Tallahassee and with FSU, those are the two players in the Cascades Project. The exchange that is taking place, the City owns the piece of property next to the Civic Center – it’s called ‘the O’Connell site’, they’re trading that for the two blocks on Cascades Park and another piece on Gaines Street in an exchange there because FSU wants to do the Arena District and build the College of Business there and they need that piece of land for the Convention Center Hotel,” he explained.

Why the easternmost two blocks of Gaines Street? McIntyre says it’s the old real estate mantra, “location, location, location.”

“The community basically built the amenity for the development because where else can you go and push a button on the elevator and be on the first floor and either walk two or three blocks to the 32,000 people who work downtown all within a half-mile of Cascades Park.”

McIntyre described this as a “mixed-use” development.

“There will be about 27,000 square feet of office there so people can actually office on the Park and have their own parking. A 120-room boutique hotel, which we believe Tallahassee is ready for. And then about 300 units of apartments – singles, studios and 2-bedrooms – housing about 450 residents. A wellness center for a local health care provider and then limited retail; more sports retail, whether it’s a bike shop, sports apparel, yoga, that sort of stuff.”

There will be a variety of food and beverage sellers, McIntyre said, none of which would compete directly with the high-end Edison Restaurant on the other side of Cascades Park. Another unique aspect to this location, McIntyre acknowledged, is its historical significance.

“The history that has taken place on that corner, not only with what was the Division of Corporations office building – before that it was the Leon County Jail – and then there was, just as importantly if not more so, the Leon County Public Health Unit. That building was built in 1939 by the WPA as part of the Great Depression economic stimulus.”

McIntyre said there are many options to preserving those structures, either in whole or in part, as well as publicly documenting their history within the development itself. To that end, he said he’d like local folks to help guide the project concept, at least to a degree.

“We’re involving the community from a broad spectrum to come into there and give us the ideas and speak to us. I’m not the type of developer that says, ‘Here’s my idea; take it or leave it.’ We’re the kind of developers that say let’s talk about it a couple of times. And after we start getting the fabric of what the community wants there, it’s a lot easier to bring that to a consensus.”

After that’s done, McIntrye said the project will get underway in earnest.

“We’ve got about a 30-month construction duration starting next spring is our goal and we want to light the Christmas tree on November 27th of 2020, which is the Friday after Thanksgiving in 2020.”

McIntrye estimated the cost of the project at around $105 million. He pegged the number of construction jobs during the 30-month build-out at around 2,000. Total permanent jobs connected with the development he projected somewhere north of 500.