A record 37 nominations were submitted this year for the Great Places in Florida People’s Choice Award. With the help of our partners (AARP, Florida Bicycle Association, Florida Recreation and Parks Association and the Florida City/County Management Association), the voting was narrowed down to five finalists:
- Cascades Park – Tallahassee
- Downtown Boca Raton
- Downtown Sarasota
- Downtown West Palm Beach
- The River District – Fort Myers
And after almost 3,000 people cast their vote, Cascades Park emerged as the People’s Choice!!!!
Opening in 2014, the new Cascades Park is a joint project between the City of Tallahassee, Leon County, and Blueprint 2000, which distributes the 1 cent sales tax public improvement money. It cleaned, removed, and capped soil for environmental and health reasons, and constructed new ponds with extensive underwater pipes and water holding capacity. While it is a park, Cascades is also a critical part of the stormwater system that helps prevent flooding across the entire city. The entire park is designed to flood, if need be.
Cascades Park is a marvel of planning, landscape architecture, environmentalism, and sociology, nearly two centuries in the making. In 1821, the rustic wilderness and waterfall on the site inspired state commissioners to place Tallahassee’s capital where it stands today. In it was home to Smoky Hollow, an established African American neighborhood, and Centennial Field, a minor league baseball field. By 1981, the baseball field had been shuttered and the residents of Smoky Hollow were forced to give up their homes to make way for state offices and a new landfill, which would eventually become an EPA Superfund site.
Cascades Park also features a public amphitheater which seats 3,500 people, making it one of the largest venues in Tallahassee. It hosts everything from large commercial concerts to public literature and arts festivals, and creates a space for the community to come together.
Next door is the historic electrical plant from the first half of the 20th century, which hosts a restaurant and coffee shop as an additional amenity.
Cascades serves the community with a playground for children made with natural objects from Tallahassee and the Big Bend region, an interactive fountain for families to play and cool off in during the summer, miles of multi-use trails, and a Korean War Memorial. Informational kiosks explain the storm water function of the park and point to the Prime Meridian Marker which state maps in Florida center themselves on. As Tallahassee’s first “Smart Park”, it also provides free wi-fi for visitors.
Finally, Cascades pays tribute to its roots with the Smoky Hollow memorial, which commemorates the old African American neighborhood with “shadow houses” showing the outlines and internal layouts of the shotgun houses that once dotted the valley and plaques explaining the life and customs of the residents.