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TLH Arts gets another shot at funding, as Commissioners vow to renovate Ashmore’s with City money instead

Published: Mar. 25, 2021 at 6:31 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - After funding allocations were shot down by County Commissioners, CRA Board members did not make any moves at Thursday’s meeting to distribute the funding. However, the opportunity for funding is back on the table for TLH Arts, and the group turned to another source to work on Ashemore’s Drug Store.

The CRA voted in January to reallocate $1.8 million in Tourist Development Tax funding, moving money from the TLH Arts project to renovate the Ashmore’s Drug Store in Frenchtown and finance an expansion of LeMoyne Arts.

However, that vote was subject to approval by the County Commission; instead of approving the funding, the County asked the CRA to give TLH Arts more time to find a new plan.

Part of the reasoning behind taking funding away from TLH Arts had to do with a dispute on the proposed location. FDOT decided to demolish the building at 206 W. Van Buren Street, which had levels of lead and asbestos, rather than leasing it.

Now, a possible new location is breathing new life into the project, a proposed performing arts center.

Jake Kiker, a project organizer, told CRA Board members that the owners of Railroad Square, Adam and Lily Kaye, had agreed to donate a piece of property at the entryway of the Art Park.

In the application, he describes the piece of property as “very valuable and visible.”

“We have a lot of folks we can serve with this project and create a real hub for visitors, for culture and tourism in Tallahassee, with planned improvements down in this area already underway with Visit Tallahassee, with FAMU Way, with the Airport Gateway,” Kiker told Board members. “We’re now working directly along with the group that was assembled in 2018, known as the Tallahassee TPAC. So we’re now close to 20 different organizations in the performing arts world that are going to be providing input on this project.”

Kiker says the group “took to heart” the CRA’s message in January, moving on to find another property.

“We’re simply trying to provide the best opportunity to leverage the dollars that are there to provide a performing arts option to the community,” said Kiker during public comment.

“This is a complicated issue, because we’re talking about technically three different governmental entities, the City, the County, and the CRA. And we’re not even talking about a funding source traditionally tied to any of them, these tourist development tax dollars that also has their own funding associated with regulations on how to spend,” said CRA Board Member and Mayor John Dailey.

The CRA ultimately voted to hold off on allocating any of the $1.8 million, instead giving TLH Arts until their next meeting (on May 13th) to come back with a full plan and funding request for the new project.

During Thursday’s meeting, instead of using tourist development tax dollars from the CRA, the group voted to look into finding $1 million in the City budget to fix up Ashmore’s. They made a motion for the City Manager to bring the item back at the next City Commission meeting.

When Commissioner Diane Williams-Cox proposed the renovations of Ashmore’s back in January, she said it would create a more equitable distribution of public dollars around the city. Members of the public spoke to the CRA Thursday said it’s time to invest in French Town

“I think we can be inclusive in presenting this Ashmore’s Project and really make it a vibrant part of our community,” said one public commenter.

“French Town has always been known as the area where people would congregate. It’s more than just a museum I’m talking about, I’m talking about a social gathering. That’s what Frenchtown really is about,” another added.

Williams-Cox and many public speakers Thursday said that the creation of a museum, in collaboration with the community, could be transformative for French Town, bringing tourists to the area to learn about civil rights.

“I’m invested also in preserving the history and culture of Frenchtown and what Frenchtown meant, not only to the African American community, but all of Tallahassee,” said CRA Board member and City Commissioner Curtis Richardson.

Dailey agreed, bringing up former Riley House Director Althemese Barnes to speak about the process of bringing a museum under the City umbrella.

“In my mind, it plays into a bigger vision here in Tallahassee when we talk about heritage, culture, and how to move forward,” said Dailey.

The group made a secondary motion that if $1 million cannot be found in the City budget, that it would come back to the CRA for further review.

LeMoyne Arts had requested $1 million back in January; the group received $800,000, but since it was vetoed by the County, they’re also waiting on a decision. However, LeMoyne had also received a separate $1 million from the CRA; the Board voted to release that funding and let the group get started with their projects.

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