Catalyst Interview Series: T.J. Lewis
KCCI sat down with former Community Catalyst T.J. Lewis (2007-2008). Founder of UrbanTallahassee.com, Lewis talks about his KCCI experience, the inspiration behind his popular website and much more.
KCCI Tallahassee: What was your involvement with KCCI?
T.J. Lewis: I was on the Get Gaines Going committee. In that year, I was probably the youngest one in the class. At the time – I was at FSU – I had an internship with the city, and I was the guy that was interested in the city’s growth. I used to bug all the local government people, ask them for project renderings, details, plans and so forth. When the opportunity came to get involved with KCCI, I took it.
KCCI: Tell me about Get Gaines Going.
TL: Before we came in, Gaines Street was full of warehouses. It was a four-lane road with heavy traffic in both directions. It was unattractive and it was seen as an impediment to downtown development. The city wanted an 18-hour downtown and there was this corridor that looked like endless opportunity.
The state was getting ready to do major reconstruction on Gaines, so the city got involved with design and community input. The city really wanted to take the opportunity to build an attractive gateway and not just a fast road. Get Gaines Going was all about holding everyone to their promises. We said, look, we’ve been talking about this far too long, let’s make it happen. Within a year, we started to see some activity.
KCCI: What did you learn from working with KCCI?
TL: I took away from it that you have to be patient, sit back and listen to what everyone wants to do. With that, figure out what your skills and abilities are in order to make the process work well.
KCCI: How did KCCI influence your website, UrbanTallahassee.com?
TL: I told [KCCI Consultant] Mike Pate that I wanted to build a website to showcase all of the projects that Tallahassee had, either in the pipeline or underway. At that time we were looking at five new high-rise buildings. All of this happening at once made me feel like we were on the verge of change. I thought, let’s build this website where we can show everyone what’s going on so they can get excited. We didn’t take it on as a project but Mike Pate said, just do it. I was at work thinking about that one day and I decided to finally build it. We’re probably on the 7th or 8th version of UrbanTallahassee right now.
KCCI: What makes Tallahassee attractive as a city?
TL: It’s an organically grown city that started off as one square mile, all within the original footprint. Here people care about reusing property. I like a community that is so intimate that people want you to use what you already have before moving on someplace else.
KCCI: What projects do you see as game changers for Tallahassee?
TL: Without a doubt, Cascades Park was a game changer. We don’t even know how big of a game changer yet; it’s going to be five or ten years before we see its complete impact. Cascades is the community summarized in 25 acres: it’s natural, colorful, kid-friendly and relaxed. It creates a backdrop for downtown.
Gaines Street was a game changer as well, because you’ve got a destination where people flock to for major events and a new backdrop for downtown. It also brings density to the campus area, which is attractive to prospective students, residents and employers. It’s not your stereotype of what you might think Tallahassee is.
KCCI: What is a dream that you have for the city?
TL: I’d love to see the downtown flourish, the skyline completed and for Tallahassee to be respected as Florida’s capital.