An explosion of color, creativity and enterprise

In a Gainesville Sun column earlier this year – back when The Sun was still publishing columns, letters to the editor and other opinion content – I lamented the fact that GNV seemed content to allow its much hyped “Power District” to rust away behind a chain link fence.

We seemingly being content to wait for some deep pocketed benefactor from somewhere else to come to town and present us with an amazing planned Power District development that would knock our socks off.

“I recommend that city officials take a field trip to Tallahassee and look at Railroad Square. It’s basically a collection of old warehouses near Florida A&M University that have been converted to galleries, studios, a theater, shops, a craft brewery and more,” I wrote. “And the place is hopping.”

When I wrote that piece I had last visited the Railroad Square Arts District a few years before – when it was still undergoing conversion from a collection of old warehouses (not dissimilar to the old GRU workshops in the Power District) to a bustling center for creativity and commerce.

As it happens, last week I participated in a five day Forgotten Coast bicycle tour that started in Port St. Joe and ended in Tallahassee. Before heading back to GNV we cyclists decided to have lunch in nearby Railroad Square.

If I was impressed by my earlier visit, this time around I was gobsmacked! Railroad Square has indeed burst out in an explosion of color, creativity and commerce.

And once again I couldn’t help but compare the Power District’s rot and rust to the energy and activity going on in Railroad Square.

The murals alone are worth the trip.

Colorful tributes to the famous, infamous, heroic and downright silly.

Seemingly something to appeal to all tastes.

In addition to the art galleries and studios one might expect in an arts district, there are something like 50 businesses of an astounding variety.

Clothing shops, a pin ball arcade, video stores, a fitness center, amateur theater, boutiques, furniture stores, jewelry shops, a place where you can buy kayaks and paddle boards, a barber shop, tattoo emporium and more.

And that’s not to mention several cafes, a brewery, a coffee shop and of course a Center For Alternate Reality (whatever the hell that is).

It’s even got a skateboard park with the FAMU Rattler rising up in its middle. Plenty of room in the Power District for that sort of amenity.

After lunch I wandered around and took a ton of photos. And thought about how GNV’s arts community is increasingly struggling to remain in the downtown area due to rising rents and building costs.

The other thing about Railroad Square is that its success is very much linked to the millions of dollars of parks, trails, street and infrastructure improvements that is helping to turn a once seedy industrial are between FSU and FAMU into a thriving new Tallahassee downtown and residential district.

Not unlike the public investments that are giving GNV’s South Main Street (the Power District’s next door neighbor) new life and economic vitality.

Listen, we have a new mayor and city commission majority coming into office in January. There are going to be lots of things to talk about as the new year dawns.

And 2023 seems like the perfect year to have a community conversation about creating a GNV arts district – a place where creativity and enterprise can take root and explode.

So once again I renew my request that city officials (and county officials for that matter, not to mention business leaders and artists and such) take themselves to Tallahassee.

And not just to tour Railroad Square, but to look inspect all of the improvements Tallahassee has made to reinvent and reimagine a once neglected area sandwiched between FSU and FAMU.

Now that voters have extended, expanded and doubled the Wild Spaces and Public Places tax initiative, I suspect we could learn quite a bit from what Tallahassee has done with similar funding.

Why would be settle for chain link when we could have so much more with a little imagination assisted by public/private investment?

The Power District is a dead zone. And the chances are our much anticipated out of town savior/developer is never going to arrive.

Let’s talk GNV.

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