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Downtown Tallahassee Luxury Hotel Development, Airport Fee Changes Move Forward

Tallahassee city commissioners voted 3-2 to sell two parcels of property downtown to build two luxury hotels.
City of Tallahassee
Tallahassee city commissioners voted 3-2 to sell two parcels of property downtown to build two luxury hotels.

At the last regular Tallahassee City Commission meeting until September, local leaders approved some projects expected to generate additional revenue and economic growth.

City commissioners cleared the way for two new luxury hotels to crop up downtown and approved purchasing new landing fee collection technology at the airport.

The commission voted 3-2 on Wednesday in favor of selling about five acres of property located along South Duval and South Bronough streets to hotel developer Valencia Group for $8 million. Occupying the property right now are two parking lots, two sand volleyball courts and a food truck lot.

The developer has provided written assurances that it will commit to completing the project in two phases as described in its proposal. Estimated completion times range from a few to several years.

“What’s being proposed here certainly helps us accomplish our dream of an eighteen-hour downtown in Tallahassee," said Commissioner Curtis Richardson. "It’s been something that we have worked on and worked towards for years. And this hotel development, I believe, will help us in the downtown area.”

City officials say Valencia Group is offering slightly above market value for the property, currently assessed at $7.7 - 7.8 million. The developer has also promised the the hotels will create 250 new jobs that pay more than minimum wage.

“To have an impact on poverty — you’ve got to have jobs. And you’ve got to have jobs that are going to help pay wages to get people up," said Commissioner Diane Williams-Cox, who also voted for the property sale.

Commissioner Jeremy Matlow opposed the move. But only because the hotel developer had approached the city with an offer, instead of applying through a competitive bid process, he said.

“Anytime we have surplus land, it’s been the policy to put it out for competitive bid and to get two appraisals," Matlow said. "That protects us. That protects our community to make sure they get the best value for the property and to make sure that we have a fair and open process for everybody to apply.”

At Wednesday's meeting, city commissioners also approved purchasing an automated landing fee system for the airport. Aviation Director David Pollard says airport staff aren’t able to manually capture all non-commercial aircraft that use its runways.

“What we’re trying to do is take advantage of the technology that’s there with this system that provides a complete turn-key full service solution for us to to capture the landing fees of all aircraft.”

Pollard says the new system is expected to generate about $1.4 million in additional landing fee revenues over the next five years. Cameras and weight sensors will capture more aircraft, he said. Commissioner Curtis Richardson voted with the majority in support of adopting the new technology.

“There are certainly documented repairs and changes that need to be made at the airport," Richardson said.

He added the dollars needed for airport maintenance must come from somewhere. "If it doesn’t come from additional fees from people who can afford to fly planes in and out of our airport, then that has to come out of our general fund," Richardson said. "And certainly we’re not going to reduce services to our citizens to take care of what has been identified as needs at our airport.”

City commissioner Jeremy Matlow says he couldn’t vote in favor of the measure because he didn’t want more pilots to have to pay landing fees. And he says the extra dollars weren’t especially needed now.

“I think we’re at a transition period where we need to take our airport to the next level, but I don’t think we’re at a time when we need to be charging additional fees.”

City commissioners also voted in favor of moving forward with TLH Arts' proposed performing arts center in the Railroad Square Art District.

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.