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Owners of Railroad Square are seeking financial support from the local government

Adam and Lily Kaye, the siblings who own Tallahassee’s Railroad Square, say the capital’s historic and beloved arts district is on the brink of collapse unless they get financial help.

“It has always been our hope that the city of Tallahassee, or a related government entity, would purchase at least a portion of Railroad Square and turn it into a publicly or non-profit community resource,” they said in a statement . .

“We have been talking to city officials for years to encourage this and have suggested it to two mayors. Seven years ago, we informed a group of city staff and elected officials that we could not do this alone much longer, and that their involvement was necessary to preserve Tallahassee’s historic arts district.

The discussion about whether Railroad Square might be under mixed ownership by nonprofits, local municipalities and private interests is now urgent after the 20-acre property was destroyed by tornadoes that tore through several of the uninsured 60- to 80-year-old warehouses there . .

Fully aware that it was not financially feasible for the owners to continue to solely fund the preservation or recreation of the warehouses, options to find outside financing were explored years before the May 10 storms.

Kayes tries to collaborate with external agencies and organizations

According to the Kayes, the effort dates back to 2007, when the district was involved in conceptualizing a mixed-use development to provide affordable housing and studio spaces.

From 2018 to 2022, several of the Kayes’ ventures were explored, with groups like the Council on Culture & Arts and various city officials, but solutions never fully came to fruition.

In previous conversations with staff and elected officials, the brother-sister duo predicted they wouldn’t be able to manage the property on their own for much longer, saying they only received “conceptual support.”

“The bottom line is that we can no longer be the sole stewards or owners of Tallahassee’s Art District,” the Kayes said.

Now Rick Minor wants to get Blueprint involved

Coincidentally, during the May 16 Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency meeting, Leon County Commissioner Rick Minor requested that Blueprint provide technical expertise to the Railroad Square property so that further options could be explored.

“I believe that without local government support, the arts district will not survive,” Minor said at the meeting. “Certainly not with the current footprint. What we need to do as a community is think about options that we can use to save the arts district.”

Minor abandoned the idea of ​​introducing leasehold, positioning the art district as a Blueprint 2040 project, or purchasing part of the land if that were possible. (According to Investopedia, a leasehold “indicates that improvements,” such as buildings, “shall be owned by the property owner unless an exception is made,” and that usually gives the landowner the ability to buy the property later for a fee premium to sell.)

“If we lose (that property), it will never come back. And right now, it may be the cultural center of Tallahassee,” he said.

The nearly 30-minute discussion ended with an 11-1 vote approving a motion by Minor to meet with the Kayes and brainstorm financing options.

Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey cast the lone dissenting vote, citing the need to quickly “maximize” federal disaster relief resources.

Dailey warned the board against providing financial support to the district. His reason: Local governments could be denied requests for federal disaster assistance if it appears the city or county could handle recovery efforts on its own.

The city and county are working with FEMA and preparing for federal assistance

Currently, the city and county are working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on a preliminary damage assessment, an early stage in how the government agency determines “how a disaster is declared.”

Other Blueprint IA members supported Minor’s request, including Leon County Commissioner Nick Maddox, noting that the arts district is a community treasure. Even he noted, however, that helping companies find external financing isn’t technically something that needs to be brought to the table for a vote.

While Railroad Square owners and tenants wait for solutions, cleanup efforts are underway and several independent fundraising efforts have been launched by local businesses and residents.

The future of the neighborhood has been a major topic of discussion as many witnessed the devastation at the south side arts center for artists, entrepreneurs and residents of the capital.

Kyla A Sanford provides dinners and entertainment for the Tallahassee Democrat. She can be reached at [email protected]. A new restaurant opening, special offers or events coming up? Let me know!