Battle Over Easement Could Be The End Of Washington Square

Aug 14, 2019

Credit Robbie Gaffney / WFSU-FM

Companies invested in building Tallahassee’s first and only four-star hotel may back out if construction doesn’t start back up soon. The development of Washington Square started in August of 2018 and was expected to be finished by September of 2020. The project is stalled because Fairmont Tallahassee LLC, the projects landowner is in disagreement with the City of Tallahassee over a parking easement.

Ken McDermott is the manager of Fairmont Development. He says when the project first began he and the city had an understanding. 

"I thought if we could utilize the first level, Gadsden street level of the city garage. That we would be able to increase the density on our site. And the city realized that would be a big benefit to the city to have a higher density on our site," said McDermott. 

He lives in Tallahassee and says the building could be a, "real anchor for the downtown on the east side particularly, something that didn’t exist." 

But somewhere down the line what the easement meant and what the groups thought it meant changed.

Cassandra Jackson an attorney for the city explains, “What we’re saying is, is there some way we can share the use so we can have a benefit for the city as well as for the developer," said Jackson. 

But construction has now been stopped for months and McDermott worries the doubt over the parking garage could cause entities financing the project to back out. 

“When we got the cities letter in the fall, last fall, whatever it was 9 or 10 months ago, it put a cloud on the ability to finance the property," said McDermott. 

Thomas DiVenere, a principal for Snell Development, one of the investors testified that he couldn’t understand the dispute. Leon County Circuit Court Judge John Cooper asked if the reputation of the city was at stake, DiVenere’s replied saying, “Absolutely, there’s risk right now when I leave the room. Because I can tell you I came in here thinking Tallahassee was welcoming this development $155-million-dollar development. And after listening to this today I’m thinking, this is one of the most anti-business environments I’ve seen.” 

McDermott said while investors are important they aren’t his only concerns. 

Downtown construction site for the unfinished Washington Square building with the Leon County Courthouse peeking over top.
Credit Robbie Gaffney / WFSU-FM

“If we have a major storm hurricane event, and we have subsidence under the city garage, underneath Calhoun street, Jefferson street and those structures start going into our hole we have an enormous problem. Insurmountable damages," explained McDermott. 

With the threat of possible harm, the judge decided to have the next hearing Aug. 21, in hopes that would give enough time for the sides to prepare their evidence.