Fairgrounds Redevelopment Needs a Plan

There is no doubt that the south side of Tallahassee needs economic revitalization.

I have agreed for a long time that it makes perfect sense to move the current   Fairgrounds to a new site and to redevelop the existing site on south Monroe Street .

I supported a $25,000 study by Wiegel-Vesey in 2003 to determine the feasibility of moving to a new site and marketing the existing property to a developer.  That taxpayer funded study said that it would be possible to redevelop the property but not until 2013-15.  That study was done BEFORE the current economic recession came down on our heads!

Recently the county was offered an opportunity to buy 114 acres of US Forest Service land on Capital Circle SE for $2.65 million in reserve funds and commissioners were asked to support the purchase in hopes a deal would be struck with the Fairgrounds Association to relocate to the new site.  I was one of four commissioners who voted against the purchase at this time saying that the county unfortunately had the “cart before the horse”.  There is no agreement by the Fairgrounds Association to move to that site should the county choose to acquire it.  I would think that would be a preliminary and rather elementary step one should take if buying a multi-million dollar piece of land using taxpayer money.

Little  has been said by commissioners  who favor the move about the additional $7-11 million that would be needed to make the North Florida Fairgrounds Association “whole” by reconstructing the facilities as they currently are configured on the new property.

Taxpayers would ACTUALLY be looking at between $10-14 million to accomplish this move at a time when Leon County is facing a sizeable deficit!

Commissioners were asked to waive the requirement for two independent appraisals before purchasing the Forest Service land.   They were asked to buy the land before there was a formal agreement between the county and the Fairgrounds Association that they would agree to move their facilities to the newly acquired tract on Capital Circle.  We were asked to buy the land before there was any prospect of a developer coming along to offer the $10 to $14 million that taxpayers would have to lay out to accomplish the “vision” of a new urbanism reality.

To successfully redevelop the North Florida Fairgrounds, BOTH a rezoning and a comp plan amendment would be required.  The interesting tidbit here is that the county would be asking the city for both the rezoning and the amendment.  What do the neighbors who reside around the existing fairgrounds think of the idea of redevelopment?  Will there be a hue and cry by the surrounding populace?  How will the city commission respond should there be a negative reaction from the surrounding neighbors?  What developer, in their right mind, would think about investing millions without this basic knowledge or without a plan acceptable to local authorities for what could be developed on the site?

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