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Tallahassee’s Vertical Building Boom: A Model Of Smart Growth

One Tallahassee entrepreneur presents to a room of business people about his new startup.
By Andrew J. Mitchell, Jr.

Tallahassee is not a major metropolitan area, but it’s trying to become one, and it’s a challenging journey for Florida’s capital city.

At Tallahassee’s Domi Station – the city’s first business incubator, a group of entrepreneurs has just heard a proposal for a bike business that uses an app to connect cycling enthusiasts. It’s a part of a series that Chris Markl helps lead each week for local startups. Markl illustrates the history of how incubators like these can push the maturation of a city.

““I would say that you see a lot startup growth or startup hubs exist either in downtown or near downtown of cities,” Markl said. “As people push out towards the suburbs, downtown became cheap.  And that’s where you see a lot of these innovation hubs. You see a lot of revitalization of business in similar ways you've seen downtowns develop in the past.”

What Markl is describing is a reverse urban sprawl model, or what Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum describes as Smart Growth.

“When we invest locally right here in the urban core, you end up getting higher densities,” Gillum said. “People being in walking distance from their point of origination to their destination. You find neighborhoods, communities being able to grow up around that kind of development. I’m a strong, strong supporter of smart growth. “

This smart growth model can be seen throughout Tallahassee. Cities like Los Angeles, New York and Austin have deployed similar models in the past.  In addition, the city has remodeled Cascades Park to spark further growth. The city is also focusing on building projects around downtown to revitalize its culture. Tallahassee’s Gaines Street, with its funky vendors and the Railroad Square Art Park, are just some examples of what art can do for the city, says Rep. Michelle Rehwinkle Vaslinda, D-Tallahassee.

“I think that art is at the core of what we need to do to make Tallahassee attractive to others, to have them come into the community,” she said. “Whether it’s young people we want to attract, who are attracted by art, music and literature.” 

Urban Tallahassee’s T.J Lewis has been documenting the city’s internal growth for years. His website stays current with the latest news in development.

“The city made a priority of growing inward Neighborhood redevelopment,” he said. “Infield development: and by infield I mean by taking an underutilized piece of property in the middle of town. And instead of it serving one particular resident on an acre. They take it and redevelop and it’s a town home community for 14 residents.”

Lewis is optimistic about the city’s direction and Mayor Andrew Gillum is also championing the capital’s growth spurt. He acknowledges there are concerns that all the development may not live up to its billing. But Gillum says he’s confident about the city’s future.

“Midtown, Downtown, Gaines Street, Frenchtown,” he said. “These are all areas that I would argue in the next to five to 10 years will be bustling with people with businesses, residences, who making real commitments and investments to help those areas grow.”

But, as the capital city focuses its attention on improving the epicenter, the city will also have to direct its attention to neighborhoods like Frenchtown and underprivileged areas on the Southside.