Reported by the Tallahassee Democrat

The $78 million Frenchtown Gateway project moved a step closer to reality on July 9, 2018, when the Community Redevelopment Agency approved funding of $281,660. This money will further site planning concepts and complete a series of due diligence items. These will lead to defining the role that the CRA and/or city will play in partnership with private property owners to invigorate the Frenchtown neighborhood with new retail offerings and housing.

The Frenchtown Gateway site has eight different property owners, with the CRA being the largest. The pattern of the CRA’s property ownership in the block encroaches with and prevents any of the other privately-owned parcels’ development. Four of the private owners came together to form the Frenchtown Redevelopment Partners, LLC, and created a vision to redevelop the former Shelter and adjacent properties.

The fulfillment of this vision requires further study and a viable partnership with the CRA. The assemblage of land, and eventual equitable swap agreements requires extensive engineering, surveying and legal work. The Commission’s funding on July 9 was an important first step towards a collaborative process to creating a public-private partnership for the benefit of residents in Frenchtown.

The support of the CRA is vital to the viability of a transformative project that will change the landscape of Frenchtown community. Investment during the period of due diligence will provide FRP and the CRA the resources to effectively address the complexities of a development of this size, scale and potential social impact.

The Frenchtown Gateway is a proposed mixed-used development that incorporates commercial, residential and retail space, anchored by a grocery store; it must have ample parking to support these components.

We commend the CRA for providing funds for a parking study, as the costs to developing a parking garage could derail the project. FRP has secured Walker Parking Consultants, one of the nation’s leading parking design and consulting practices, to conduct a parking supply, demand and rate study. This information will help FRP project revenues and expenses for the parking operations.

It is important to note that the presence of the Shelter at the gateway of Frenchtown throttled large-scale, catalytic investments in the area that was once the epicenter of culture, commerce and community for African-American residents in North Florida. Our team is sensitive to the collective vision of the Frenchtown stakeholders and will continue to solicit feedback and ideas to enhance the project as we move forward.

We would like to express our appreciation to the CRA for their generous support of our efforts. We would also like to thank the Citizens Advisory Committee and other community leaders for their support and guidance throughout this process.

Tony Brown is the president and CEO of T. Brown Consulting Group, and was previously the director of the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund at the U.S. Department of Treasury. Keith Bowers is the project manager for the Frenchtown Redevelopment Partners, LLC. His firm, Bowers Group, has notable projects including Carolina Oaks Subdivision and the Frenchtown Financial Opportunity Center.

A rendering of Tennessee and Macomb streets, and access drives at grocery store and retail/foodtruck lot. RENDERING BY FITZGERALD COLLABORATIVE GROUP, LLC

The $78-million, mixed-used development includes 200 and 250 condos or apartments, 58,400 square feet of retail space in three buildings, 25,000 square feet of office or medical space and ample parking. FITZGERALD COLLABORATIVE GROUP, LLC

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Tony Brown and Keith Bowers Guest columnists