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New Proposal to Revitalize Frenchtown

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By Gina Jordan

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-909923.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – A plan is in the works to revitalize the economy in the most depressed areas of Leon County. Gina Jordan reports the county commission will have to give its financial backing to the proposal.

Commissioner Cliff Thaell placed an item on the July 13th agenda calling for the formation of the greater Frenchtown/Southside Economic Revitalization Committee.

"Too often, these folks have not had a seat at the table where the decisions affecting their destiny are made; decisions which impact their lives, their businesses and their very future. The Leon County Commission has addressed this idea many times in the past. Now it is time to put the full clout of local government behind this idea."

Two-thirds of the committee would be comprised of business and community leaders from the Southside and Frenchtown. The others would be appointed from around the community to fill various areas of expertise. Reverend Lee Johnson says this will be a jump start for the whole city.

"These are the two areas that we are going to designate as needing the most help right now. But when you look at the big picture, it will increase the tax base for all of Leon County."

Since some Frenchtown businesses have no money in the budget to get the word out about their products and services, Johnson says one idea is to get the county to pay for some of their advertising.

"A deal is a deal, right? If I want it, I don't care; I'm going there and buy it. Also, the idea circulated was an idea of a website for these small businesses, giving them a website that would be able link them to the world and to the other communities that people could buy using their credit cards and buy online. These are just some of the ideas in terms of bringing in other customers to the Frenchtown and Southside area."

In spite of the connotations that come from the name Frenchtown, one community business owner says there have been no talks about changing it. Instead, Frank Williams, President of Florida Developers Inc., wants a concerted cleanup effort.

"We need to remove drug dealers from Frenchtown. We need to remove prostitution from Frenchtown, and we need to figure out a way to work a cooperative effort with The Shelter to keep those people from The Shelter from annoying all of the businesses in that area, and they do."

Williams says the area has improved significantly, but there is a lot more to be done. He says they will be back to square one if the commission rejects their plan to form a committee. One of Cliff Thaell's opponents for the county commission at large seat supports the idea. Nick Maddox, who attended the news conference announcing the committee plans, says the move is far overdue. But he's suspicious about the timing. He sees the actions of the long time incumbent as a political tactic.

"I'm proud of the idea. The people who are involved in it are going to be amazing, but I say shame on Cliff Thaell for waiting 16 years to put something like this in place when he has a candidate like myself threatening him."

In fact, Thaell has three opponents in his bid for a fifth term. He says he has always opposed sprawl in favor of responsible growth in the urban core. If the commission approves the plan, applications will be accepted for fifteen openings on the committee. Members will advise county policymakers on topics like investments and development.