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Old Gas Station Awaits its Revival

Tom Flanigan

A long-abandoned gas station in South Tallahassee is in line for a rebirth as a dynamic group of young professionals has joined forces to make it happen.

(Old TV ad) “’Happy’ is no ordinary oil drop. He’s an oil drop with a mission. You see, he’s Esso’s cheerful symbol of Happy Motoring…..”

That old TV ad dates from the 1950s. That’s also when a service station bearing the “Happy Motoring” logo opened for business at the intersection of what now is FAMU Way and South Adams Street in South Tallahassee. Years ago, the station went out of business and has stood forlorn and abandoned until now. A group of redevelopers that calls itself “Foremost” has ambitious plans for the old gas station. In response to the question, “Why bring an old rattle-trop, battened-down structure back from the dead?” Foremost member Jack Kiker replied,

“Well, I live in a rattle-trap, battened-down old dairy about a block away from here. So I’m a big fan of urban renewal and community redevelopment and so this type of project is something that really resonates with me, notwithstanding the fact that we also have an amazing building with great architectural details already here.”

Kiker said he and his Foremost partners think the structure can be reborn as a place that attracts people; especially creative people.

“We certainly hope so,” he said. “As you can see from our little space over here, we’ve already got Street Art Tallahassee, which has set up their little temporary shop here and others are already in the district, so we think there’s a lot of potential here.”

In mid-November, Foremost hosted a pop-up art gallery in the space. Artists were invited to capture their concept of the word “knockout” on 4x8 foot boards in half-an-hour. That party included food and drink and Foremost member Micah Widen, a prime driver for the DOMI Station Incubator down the street, wants to see that idea expanded.

“Our vision is a mixed-use space to create a place where people can come off the bike path from Cascade Park and spend time down here throughout the day,” Widen explained. “And really create a place where we want to hang out among other like-minded individuals and be in this community. There’s a lot of culture and a lot of great things going on here with FAMU Way that was just completed and in between the universities and I think this is just a great area of town.”

Foremost partner Jacob Waites hoped his group’s old gas station can be not only a gathering place, but also a symbol of a vibrant, welcoming community where young people can build a future.

“These big hitters are going off to Facebook, and Dropbox and getting hired off after they leave college,” he said. “So to me, I’m trying to keep people here. Doing events like this and showing the people what type of actual creative populace we have here is really big to me.”

For Foremost colleague Lucas Lindsey a huge part of the whole initiative is to keep the result as local as possible.

“We have a lot of expansion in the local community, but some of it is corporation and national chain(s) and I’d love to see a revitalization of the local business community and really focus on that local first. And I really think this could be the kind of development that people rally around for that.”

The old gas station would be at least the third one in Tallahassee that’s been re-purposed for other local pursuits. One is now occupied by Blount Plumbing where Thomasville Road splits off of North Monroe. The other at the corner of Calhoun and Call downtown houses the bookstore of St. John’s Episcopal Church. Of course, the South Adams Street station needs a lot of work. And Foremost’s Lucas Lindsey said the drive is on to get more folks involved in the project.

“We’re talking to a number of people right now, gauging interest and seeing who’s ready to dive in to this kind of hands-on creative project. We’re probably into the second quarter of next year when we get ready to get started, so we’ll see.”

For the first time in many years, it seems there could be a happy future for the old Tallahassee service station that still carries part of its original “Happy Motoring” logo on its upper façade.