Tallahassee mayor hopes to learn about revitalization from Overtown
By Carolyn Hyppolite
Tallahassee Mayor John Marks plans to visit his native Overtown today (10/2) to gain insight into challenges in his adopted city.
The Collins Center for Public Policy, a South Florida think tank working on development projects in the Miami neighborhood, is hosting the event, scheduled to include a discussion on strategies for economic growth.
Mr. Marks said parallels between Overtown and Frenchtown, a Tallahassee neighborhood he hopes to revitalize, hold critical lessons he can take home.
Both neighborhoods were once vibrant residential and business centers but have seen dramatic declines in economic and human resources. Overtown, home to 40,000 residents at its peak in the 1960s, is now populated by 8,000. The population of Frenchtown has fallen by one-third since 1960.
Collins Center President Rod Petrey, based in Miami-Dade County, said Mr. Marks has taken note that businesses are slowly moving into Overtown and residents are following.
"My mother still goes to church in that area," Mr. Marks said. "It's an area that is going through economic change. I think it can tell us a lot."
Mr. Marks hopes to get ideas on how to nurture economic growth in Frenchtown without displacing its financially strapped residents. Leaders in both neighborhoods are concerned about gentrification - not only its potential to dislocate current residents but its effect on the personality of the community.
Mr. Petrey said young, childless professionals are moving to the area to be closer to work, and Mr. Marks said Florida State University students are increasingly renting apartments in Frenchtown.
While both men say they are encouraged by potential economic benefits of those trends, they want to assure that they are not a burden to lifelong residents.
"We want to maintain some of the character of the area," Mr. Marks said. "I don't see any reasons why we can't do both. I think the FSU students can have a positive effect."
The Collins Center is working with a St. Louis developer, Crosswinds Community Inc., on a 16,000-space mix-used project.
The center's agreement with Crosswinds includes a stipulation that 25% of housing units must go to low-income families.
"Developers don't do these things out of the goodness of the heart," Mr. Petrey said. "The market doesn't work wonderfully all the time and you have to provide businesses with incentives to do the right thing."
The Collins Center also works with community organizations to preserve the history of the neighborhood and stay attuned to the desires of current residents.
"Our role is to make sure that the needs of the 8,000 people who live there are being met," Mr. Petrey said. "It's not just about building pretty buildings."
Mr. Marks said he wants to bring a mixture of preservation, innovation and flexibility to Frenchtown. "Frenchtown is a predominantly black area with stores that cater to the flavor of the community," he said. "It's important to maintain the character whether it's black or not."
Mr. Marks, a former member of the Collins Center, has worked on Overtown Development with Mr. Petrey in the past.