An artsy ‘Public Purpose’ for the Power District

I believe the time has come this year for the commission to assign a public purpose for this property. Exactly what that will be I honestly don’t know, but I DO know we can’t just let it sit there any longer WITHOUT a purpose. Mayor Harvey Ward.

GNV’s Power District is a city-owned slum locked away behind chain link fencing. Tallahassee’s Railroad Square Arts District is a former slum that has exploded into a vibrant center for the arts…not to mention a good place to do business.

GNV bands used to be able to practice in a warehouse off Waldo Road. But no more.

The Acrosstown Repertory Theater, having been priced out of its theater of more than three decades, is doing Shakespeare In The Park while it looks for new digs.

Part of the price we are paying for downtown revitalization and the city’s infrastructure investments in the Depot Park area is that rents and building prices invariably go up. And that can mean that the arts will be priced out of the very area where its presence creates the most cultural and economic enrichment.

GNV is fortunate to have a rich music scene. For a city of its size it has a surprisingly vibrant theater community.

One only has to look at the proliferation of colorful murals all over town to understand that the visual arts are alive and well in GNV.

With all that and more going for it, GNV ought to be a renown City Of The Arts. And the City should be, not just a cheerleader for the arts, but a promoter, sponsor and even source of nourishment for artists, musicians, players, dancers, poets and the like.

But how to do all that?

Here’s a modest proposal. How about we proclaim the abandoned and locked away Power district next to Depot Park GNV’s Center For The Arts?

It’s also a timely proposal. Because right now the city commission is trying to come to grips with the future of the Power District.

Consider Mayor Ward’s recent Facebook posting:

“More than ten years ago the city built the Eastside Operations Center on North Main Street and moved most utility operations there. Since then the Power District has been an unoccupied asset.”

“I promised last year during my campaign for mayor that we would make the Power District a priority. The first step toward that is this coming Tuesday, March 28, at 3 PM. We’ve scheduled a city commission workshop to discuss the right direction for the Power District, and I hope you’ll join us at City Hall.”

As things stand, the Power District is a 17-acre collection of old warehouses, machine shops and offices sequestered behind chain link. Past efforts to attract out-of-town money to transform it into some sort of master planned development have failed miserably.

I have argued before that the Power District is a priceless GNV asset and its future ought to be envisioned and implemented locally. That we ought to “take a more organic, piecemeal approach to turning this “funky industrial” complex, as it’s been called, into a funky success story.”

But how to do it?

Railroad Square Arts District is a Tallahassee success story. This collection of old warehouses converted into artist studios, theaters, cafes and more has helped revitalize a long neglected section of the city.

First, I would urge city commissioners and officials to take a field trip to Tallahassee and take a hard look at Railroad Square. Basically it is an old collection of warehouses and shops (not unlike the Power District) that has been transformed into a vibrant and economically productive Art District midway between Florida State and Florida A&M universities.

As I noted in an earlier post.

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.

In short: 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

Kudos to the Mayor for kick starting a community discussion to find a “public purpose” for the woebegone Power District. Declaring the Power District an Arts District – and making its collection of abandoned buildings available for studios, theaters, music venues and the like – would constitute a wonderful public purpose for a too-long neglected GNV asset.

But how to make it happen:

For one thing, it occurs to me that GNV could use an organized and engaged Artist Alliance to help make the case for a creative repurposing the Power District.

This is a city blessed with thousands of musicians, artists, poets, writers, actors and the like. Thousands of creative minds speaking with one voice could help shape the destiny of this university city in ways not even imaginable.

But creating a viable Artist Alliance is going to take time and organization. Here’s something artists can do almost immediately to help the cause.

Contact your mayor and commissioners and urge them to back the creation an arts district in the old Power District. And by all means plan to attend the Tuesday Commission workshop at 3 p.m. and make your case personally.

GNV should be a City Of The Arts. Turning a neglected industrial slum into a haven for artists would go a long way toward making that dream come true.

We can do better GNV. We are a more creative city than this.

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