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Community weighs pros, cons of "Project Mango"

Neighbors say while more jobs is a good thing, they have environmental and traffic concerns
Posted at 4:00 AM, May 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-26 11:17:16-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — One of the largest economic projects to date for Leon County could be a reality. The county is a finalist location for a fulfillment center. Under a confidentiality agreement, the company behind the center dubbed "Project Mango" is unknown.

People who live nearby tell ABC 27 that they're interested in hearing more about the changes it could bring to Mahan Drive.

Signs now surround the 170-acre property, inviting people to give their thoughts and concerns at a May 26 Developmental Review meeting. People like Leah Harvey say there's still a lot of questions surrounding how it'll impact the area.

"When we talk about things as large scale as Project Mango, we have to consider the good and the bad," said Harvey.

Now that neighbors know slightly more about the secretive proposed fulfillment center dubbed Project Mango, people living near Mahan Drive and I-10 are now weighing the pros and the cons. One concern: worries that there will be a barrier to who can get one of the thousands of jobs starting at $15 an hour.

"Even with the added opportunity of jobs, not everyone is going to get even the same access to those jobs," said Harvey.

To even the playing the field, the Office of Economic Vitality is now working on a recruitment process they say will be the largest recruitment in the city's history if finalized. OEV's incentive package would present more than $2 million aimed at getting people across the county prepared for the company if it does move to Tallahassee.

If that happens, that means thousands of people now involved with the distribution center on Mahan Drive, a heavily traveled road.

"I did have a little bit of wondering what it'll do to the traffic because it can get backed up over near capital circle," said Susan Masterson.

A traffic study was recently completed to see how the center will impact travel and necessary changes to make the drive smoother for workers and people who call the area home.

The study found the center is anticipated to generate roughly 3,700 new daily external trips. 601 trips in the morning peak hour and 1,001 in the evening peak hour. Truck trips are anticipated to account for 387 daily trips. By next year, when the center would open, there's an estimated 3% growth rate for traffic on Mahan at the nearby intersections such as Thornton, Vineland, Miccosukee, and the I-10 ramps.

The site access analysis for the proposed project driveways suggests the existing turn lane lengths are expected to accommodate traffic.

At Mahan Drive and Vineland Drive southbound, the proposed changes include a left-turn lane, a through lane, and an exclusive right-turn lane. At the intersection of Mahan Drive and Brickell Boulevard/Cross Creek Driveway, a westbound right-turn deceleration lane on Mahan Drive at Brickell Boulevard/Cross Creek Driveway is recommended.

The plan also includes another StarMetro bus stop for employees who will depend on public transit.

"I hope they take the necessary steps but overall I think it's a good thing," said Masterson.

Grow Tallahassee is also confident in what the development will bring to the city. Grow Tallahassee a non-profit organization focused on promoting economic development and growth within the greater Tallahassee – Leon County region. Grow Tallahassee Board Member Jared Willis says coming off of COVID job losses, this is a step in the right direction.

"We're all the way out of the woods yet, but we're starting to see some recovery post-pandemic. The people who were hit the hardest are those who may not have a college degree or the in-depth technical skills that employers are looking for," said Willis. "Especially with the impact of the hospitality industry, a lot of these workers are struggling to find work. To add a thousand jobs to the job market that is almost double minimum wage, that's going to be a huge shot in the arm."

Willis says this could also point to an increase in wages faster than the gradual increase to a $15 state minimum wage voters approved in 2020.

"What we're looking at here is a company that's going to come in and say right off the bat, 'We're going to start at $15 an hour.' Other companies, maybe lower-wage jobs, will have to raise their wages to compete. Beyond the thousand jobs that will start at $15 an hour, we're going to see other jobs around the city go up and the ability to earn will go up," said Willis.

Details about when Tallahassee will find out if it is selected as the next home for the facility aren't available yet, but city leaders say construction could begin as early as August. The targeted launch date is mid-2022.

People interested in hearing more can go to the Development Review meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 26 at the Frenchtown Renaissance Center.