Was College Town Worth It? Storefront Owners, Developers Weigh In
It’s been seven years since Tallahassee’s College Town broke ground. Since then, the area has become a weekend hangout and game day destination for students and alumni. But nearly a decade later, was the $100 million project worth it?
Early on in its development, there was speculation about the risk College Town posed. If it tanked some worried, it would bring down surrounding neighborhoods with it. After all, the nation was still in the throes of the Great Recession. As it grew, extensive renovations of Gaines Street followed, changing the landscape of the street as well as the adjacent All Saints neighborhood.
“Because of the relentlessness of the construction, it has been a net negative experience. I don’t feel it has brought more people to the neighborhood,” says Evan Rossi, co-owner of All Saints Cafe. Rossi is also a WFSU employee. He says renovations have not done what some had hoped.
Rossi knows of at least one business, Sick Boy Vintage, that had to shut down because its storefront wasn’t as accessible due to construction.
“I don’t think the area has had a sufficient amount of time between massive construction projects to get a really clear perspective on any positive impact,” Rossi says. “The negative impact is certainly felt.”
While some businesses in the area feel ongoing construction is hurting sales, others say the location is their biggest draw.
I Heart Mac and Cheese, a fast-casual restaurant chain, opened its Gaines Street location last August. Stephanie Downar is the restaurant’s general manager:
“We have our own thing, food-wise, and we don’t serve any alcohol, we don’t stay open till 2 or 3 in the morning,” Downar says. “By serving mac and cheese, that puts us over and above any other restaurant, because we’re small, we’re friendly, we’re have a short staff—it’s natural.”
This differentiation, she believes, is what will help them carve out a future in the area.
“We’re not going anywhere. This is going to be our landmark,” Downar says.
In the years since its unveiling, College Town has become home to food and retail options ranging from standalone boutiques to nationwide franchises. Its newest addition, Tally + Fin Beach Boutique, opened last September. Hannah Lewis, one of the boutique’s co-owners as well as a manager at B.B Studios, the beauty salon Tally + Fin share a wall with, says the location was ideal for sales.
“Our customers are largely college girls in sororities—next door at B.B., we give lots of tans and eyelash extensions to those girls during recruitment week,” Lewis says. “By moving here, we’re closer to campus and Greek life, and it’s been growing like crazy.”
When asked about number of clothing boutiques that have opened and since closed in College Town, Lewis says the key to longevity is setting oneself apart.
“When I was in college, the space Tally + Fin is in used to be Reef Boutique, and then it closed. When it comes to clothes, all we have is the mall. With our store here, we have styles that college girls want to wear, that aren’t just the typical clothes you’d find at a mall further away.”
Bbusinesses, particularly clothing stores, have experienced a high rate of turnover in College Town. Adding to this issue is the noticeable amount of open spaces for rent that have yet to be filled as well as gaps between sections of sidewalks, making some parts of the area emptier and less walkable than expected.
“You find that a lot in retail, it’s just the nature of the biz. It’s a high-risk industry. Our development partner is building the Indigo Hotel right next to us, that will in essence support the retailers,” says FSU Boosters President Andy Miller. The Boosters organization helped establish College Town.
“Most of the stuff we turned over, we turned over early in the development.”
Miller says there are plans to make College Town more pedestrian-friendly in the near future.
On the money side of things, College Town seems to be doing well. Since its opening, the district has generated over $3.2 million in tax revenue to Leon County.