Catalyst Interview Series: Melanie Yeager

Knight Creative Communities Institute (KCCI): How did you first hear about KCCI?

Melanie Yeager (MY): I first heard about KCCI from several of my colleagues at the Florida State University College of Business who either served as a catalyst or on the KCCI board. I was drawn to the idea of working with a cross-section of city residents to improve Tallahassee. I liked KCCI’s proactive, positive approach. The Catalysts I knew embraced living in Tallahassee, but they believed in the city’s potential to offer even more, especially for young professionals.

KCCI: Can you tell us a little bit more about the Gateway Tallahassee project?

MY: Our 2011-2012 KCCI initiative worked on ways “to transform the city’s most heavily traveled entryways into corridors that clearly identify and brand the state capital as a vibrant, thriving and welcoming community.” Bottom line, Tallahassee didn’t make a great first visual impression to visitors. We decided to focus on the North Monroe corridor, primarily because of its high traffic numbers, but we considered it a starting place. Our thinking was any transformation could be replicated at other Tallahassee entry points.

KCCI: What would you consider the biggest win of your project?

MY: KCCI’s Gateway Tallahassee project was adopted as a Tier-1 recommendation by the Leon County Sales Tax Committee and ultimately became part of the Penny Sales Tax Extension plan approved by voters in 2014.

KCCI: What was the biggest challenge you encountered during your project?

MY: Our biggest challenge was bringing disconnected and disillusioned North Monroe stakeholders together for community input. The area was in an obvious state of business decline, so many owners and residents were discouraged about the area’s future. Even the North Monroe restaurant where our KCCI project group met weekly closed down halfway through our service year.

Fast-forward six years: The voter-approved plan includes investments in streetscaping and safety enhancements for pedestrians and cyclists. These improvements should foster further redevelopment. The once-languishing mall now has a live music venue and new restaurants. I just read in the Tallahassee Democrat that a large and long-vacant hotel near the Monroe and I-10 interchange has been bought with plans to remodel and open for college football season. These are all real signs of progress and hope for that area of town.

KCCI: What are some of the reasons you love Tallahassee?

MY: I like that Tallahassee is small enough that I often run into people I know at restaurants and stores, but large enough that big-name musicians frequently perform here. My favorite venue is All Saints Cinema in the refurbished Amtrak station. Run by the nonprofit Tallahassee Film Society, the small downtown cinema offers foreign and independent films year-round. Occasionally, patrons are also treated to the sound of a live train rolling through town right outside the cinema’s back door. I’m also a fan of the new Cascades Park and its Capital City Amphitheater.

KCCI: Who should apply to be a KCCI Community Catalyst?

MY: I recommend KCCI participation to anyone wanting to make a positive and practical difference in Tallahassee.