Frenchtown's Ashmore Museum Project Stalled, But Still A Possibility
A historic preservation project in Tallahassee's Frenchtown neighborhood is undone but is still on the drawing board. The issue now is finding the money, and a unified vision, to get the work started.
Tallahassee's Frenchtown neighborhood has been around since before the Civil War. But decades of redevelopment have removed many - if not most - of the community's historic structures. One that survives is Ashmore's, which opened as a small pharmacy the year after the end of World War II. Its proprietor was, perhaps surprisingly, a white guy, Robert Ashmore, who originally hailed from Sopchoppy. Ashmore's has been vacant for years and is now City of Tallahassee property.
A few years ago, a group of neighbors, community advocates and preservationists, including Max Epstein, requested money from the Community Redevelopment Agency to turn the historic structure into a Frenchtown museum. He says the original ask was around $1.8 million.
"The first time around with this grant, there were issues with it. But I believe that our project was ranked highly for a reason and it would have been completed and operational for the last few years by now before all the construction costs went up and we'd be serving the community by now."
But that was not to be.
"A new group with a new proposal that was not very much different from our own came in and we were shut out. It's a tough pill to swallow because it seems to me that Frenchtown keeps getting pushed off for other projects."
The group that received the grant was TLH Arts. Its plan was to redevelop a former Florida Department of Transportation warehouse near Anita Favors Thompson Park into an arts incubator. Tallahassee City Commissioner Dianne Williams Cox said she was very much in favor of the original use of the money for the Ashmore project.
"What I was trying to get us to agree to do was to use the available $1.8 million that had been out there and not been used to bring those dollars in to leverage the use of that building for activities that would bring tourism back to Frenchtown."
But with that grant now gone elsewhere, Max Epstein said it only makes sense to seek another CRA grant.
"The Frenchtown neighborhood plan, they've requested $1 million for Ashmore's. Maybe that's going to happen hopefully, along with another $4.5 million that they're asking for. But it sounds to me like, again, Frenchtown should be considered, being the original arts, culture and heritage district, for this funding."
Although sympathetic, City Commissioner Dianne Williams Cox, who sits on the CRA, is giving no guarantees.
"I am hopeful, but I know that we have so many other needs of our city, to find $1 million to create a museum might just not be at the top of our priority list. And these dollars were available at the time that could get us there."
But although that chance is gone, Williams Cox insisted she remains a fan of the concept.
"I'm hopeful - fingers crossed - that we'll realize an opportunity to make Ashmore's a part of our history here in the city as part of the Frenchtown plan."
Just don't expect the project to get started in the immediate future.