Alternate uses for the North Florida Fairgrounds discussed

Published: Dec. 12, 2019 at 7:21 PM EST
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By: Monica Casey | WCTV Eyewitness News

December 12, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- At Thursday night's meeting, the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency discussed the future of the Fairgrounds.

The fairground improvements were on the agenda because Leon County Commissioner and Blueprint Board member Bill Proctor requested the agency re-order its priority list, moving the fairgrounds closer to the top.

The project is currently scheduled to occur between 2030 and 2034; Blueprint created options of (1) considering advance funding of the Fairgrounds and the Northeast Park projects within the 5-year capital budget, or (2) bring back an agenda item detailing the cost of the $26 million bond to advance the funding within the five-year budget.

Mark Harvey, the Executive Director of the North Florida Fair Association, discussed his frustration that he had not heard from Blueprint about the planned improvements.

Mayor John Dailey made a motion to accept the status report, but said it may be time for a closer look at the use of the space.

"I think before we move forward with the prioritization or the re-prioritization, we should have a clear vision of what we want to do and where we want to go," said Dailey. "As a county commissioner, about five years ago we did a feasibility study of highest and best use, and you know as we move forward, what could those 100 acres represent or be, and I think it's time to have that conversation again."

He said it's the right time to reopen the conversation.

"It's time to redevelop the fairgrounds," said Dailey. "It's time to take the 52 acres that are available and really study the best use. We have an incredible opportunity. When we have such a shortage of workforce housing and we have a parcel that large, we have to have this conversation. When we have the need for a grocery store, the need for jobs, I think we need to have a conversation."

The County would have to work directly with the fair; currently, the Fairgrounds have a long term lease through 2067.

"That lease is nasty, it's a difficult conversation," said Dailey, acknowledging the magnitude of the decision.

Dailey suggested the fair might be better suited in a different county, more focused on agribusiness.

Commissioner Nick Maddox suggested bringing back an agenda item on doing a new study on the options for the Fairgrounds.

In response to redeveloping the Fairgrounds, Mark Harvey said the Fairgrounds bring tourists to Tallahassee, putting heads in beds.

"Everything is on the table, everything should be looked at. But when it comes down to it, I think that the needs of the County to have something like a fairgrounds is going to vastly outweigh some type of redevelopment program," said Harvey.

Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox said she agreed with the move to look at redevelopment, but was concerned about keeping Harvey and the Association

in the loop.

"I would like to suggest that the conversation be had with Mr. Harvey out of respect," said Williams-Cox. "And public engagement, like with the police station, let's talk about other things that can happen on the Southside of town. We want nice restaurants, facilities, things that we can go to for entertainment."

Williams-Cox argued for a study to happen quickly, capitalizing on the development around the Fairgrounds.

"I hate working from behind; I want to work with everything else that's going on," she said.

Commissioner Kristin Dozier was against Maddox's motion.

"I would love to see all kinds of things there," said Dozier. "The study said we need private sector interests there, unless we're going to go out and build houses."

Dozier said she is not ready to spend money on the study before having a more lengthy conversation.

Maddox's motion was voted down; the issue may come up at a County Commission meeting at a later date.

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