Does Marco need a new downtown?

Despite some skepticism, city and county officials hope to develop a win-win proposal

Article Highlights

  • CRA for Marco a plus to some, but affects on county coffers, county taxpayers a concern
  • Commissioners and council hope for more discussions
  • Marco and Collier managers, directors to meet on plans in January

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— Would a city center on Marco attract residents from throughout the county? That’s the question on many county officials’ minds as they wait to be further engaged in the proposal to create a community redevelopment area for the approximate 200-acre area surrounding the Town Center retail mall on Marco’s Elkcam Circle.

Many say they know very little about the plans and Marco’s Community Development Director Steve Olmsted said he is not that surprised.

“It’s early. There really aren’t any specific plans yet,” he said.

The city has held charrettes with property owners to discuss what they would like to see in the area. Those public planning sessions were held in April and all 1,100 owners, but not all merchants, in the proposed area were invited. About 50 people, particularly business owners as the area does not include private residential streets, attended and one of the most discussed needs for the area included safer pedestrian and vehicle access. The primary controversies included increased density and mixed-uses between commercial and residential. Some, such as marine owner Bill Rose, said mixed-use offered an opportunity for work-force housing.

Others, particularly members of the Marco Island Civic Association, which has stakes and responsibilities in land-use issues as delegated to them from the Island’s developer, Deltona Corporation, are concerned about increased density on the Island.

Olmsted said public planning discussions will be opened up to merchants and others affected by change in the area.

“To date, no specific improvement plan has been prepared or approved.

“One of the next steps would be to prepare a specific, prioritized plan for improvement of the district. Improvements that the city can make would be limited to improvements to public infrastructure which, for example, could include streets, sidewalks, parks, water, sewer, lighting, landscaping, and other public improvements for enhancement of the district.”

Collier County commissioners were skeptical of the idea in earlier meetings held last year with the city.

Collier County spokesman John Torre said city and county officials are planning to meet again in early January to discuss the proposal further. That meeting will likely include City Manager Steve Thompson and County Manager Leo Ochs, but, so far, elected officials have not been invited to that meeting.

Collier County Commission Chairwoman Donna Fiala said the earlier the discussions, the better.

Marco made the first move Monday by unanimously (6-0) approving the need for the plan, which is aimed at relieving stress points where densities are hazardous and existing buildings are unsightly, as explained in the “Finding of Necessity for a Community Redevelopment Area” study gathered by the city’s hired consultant Marty Black of Kimley Horn and Associates.

Florida Statue Chapter 163, Part III, affirms that CRA’s are created to improve the general welfare, tax base and redevelopment of specific geographic areas.

A community redevelopment agency, or CRA, uses increased taxable property values caused by improvements to pay for those planned upgrades in the geographical area. This is great for the Marco area’s potential improvement fund because real estate values are dramatically down and taxable properties continue to drop, according to the county appraiser. What goes down, must go back up, some argue. However, it is also a challenge because Collier County needs those tax dollars more than ever.

Fiala has concerns for county taxpayers.

“Well it’s going to hit all the tax payers in Collier County... So any money dedicated to that CRA will have to be made up from other taxpayers... People in Immokalee will be paying for the people of Marco’s CRA.

“The Bayshore area was a perfect fit for a CRA because the area was so blighted and crime-filled and so forth.”

Faila added that the Botanical Gardens in Bayshore was an example of an improvement or amenity to benefit people from outside the CRA, but she isn’t yet sure the same argument could be made for Marco.

Black said that coastal and tourist communities are treated differently in the state statutes and levels of blight are therefor different. He added that because Collier is not a home-rule county they cannot veto Marco’s decision for a CRA, but they can challenge it in court.

Real estate values in the proposed area have decreased by 30 percent in the past three years, compared to 20 percent on the Island overall and 15 percent in the county overall, Black said.

Thompson and Vice Chairman Frank Recker pointed out that as the money to make improvements will be based on increased property values in the area, with a dollar-for-dollar county match, creating the area at the low point in property values has the greatest earning potential for the area.

Councilman Chuck Kiester said the commercial buildings in the area are severely out-dated and encouraging business investment will likely be crucial to success.

Councilman Ted Forcht was concerned that just because tax dollars were put into the area doesn’t necessarily mean businesses will invest in their own improvements.

“I’m always afraid of putting a pig in a party dress. You’ve still got a pig,” Forcht said.

“I think it would be an excellent idea if the Marco City Council and County Commission sat down to have an exchange of ideas to make it the most beneficial for all and to make something that other people can enjoy,” Fiala said.

Councilman Bill Trotter has the same hope of a “win-win,” he said.

“I think Marco and the county should be working together. I don’t like to see swords drawn,” Fiala said.

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Comments » 9

maharg writes:

The only "blighted" area in Marco is the City Council who keeps coming up with new ways to spend (tax) for things they don't need and that aren't government functions.

dc5799 writes:

I wish YOU PEOPLE would put as much effort into reducing spending as you do increasing it. You people really do have too much time on your hands.

happy6 writes:

exactly how long will it be until the whole island is not under construction? shops open and close at the town center faster than the phone company can print the numbers....what in the world are we thinking here? look around councilors...at all the spaces for rent all over the island...
and i also think id someone rides a bike down bald eagle...where we have new bike paths...they should get a ticket...this is much more dangerous than parking in a driveway...i thought the expanded paths were for bikes and walkers to share....

OldMarcoMan writes:

"Fiala has concerns for county taxpayers."

WOW shouldn't you have concerns for Marco Tax Payers first?
Don't you represent Marco first and Collier County second?
I recall from the public record we funded most of your campaign.

ratsnake writes:

in response to OldMarcoMan:

"Fiala has concerns for county taxpayers."

WOW shouldn't you have concerns for Marco Tax Payers first?
Don't you represent Marco first and Collier County second?
I recall from the public record we funded most of your campaign.

Why? She's a County Commissioner not a City Councilwoman. I bet the citizens in her district who don't live on Marco would be a little upset if she "had concerns for Marco Tax Payers first".

stepuporshutup (Inactive) writes:

We have a brand new town center (The Esplanade). Why doesn't the city do something about lowering the tax base for this property and get Antaramian to lower the rents so they can get this ghost town filled up. The Esplanade is supposed to be linked to Veterans Park and the vacant commercial land that surrounds it once the new bridge is built anyway.

freedomofspeech1 writes:

Fiala says....the people of Immokalee will be paying for the city of marco's cra....It goes both ways donna! The people of Marco are paying for the City of Immokalee's existence! If it werent for the exhoritant taxes that the people of Marco pay to the county, the people of Immokalee would pay A LOT MORE! I think the people of Immokalee should kiss the taxpayer of Marco's feet. Marco residents pay a disproportionate amount of taxes that go all over collier county and NEVER come back to Marco...dont even go there Donna!

MrBreeze writes:

Just another example of our great politicians at work. Maybee over yet another free taxpayer lunch charrette these fine leaders can find more ways to spend the taxdollars that are just not there to begin with. But wait, the new bridge is coming and we must prepare for it with a new 200 acre development that it leads to. Anyone remember the game "Candyland" when you were a kid. It reminds me of Marco Island and same with the game it "folded" when you had enough of playing it.

marcoredeagle writes:

When will a politician say we need to help small business employ people. Let small business decide to establish a downtown or not.

Reduce taxes and small businesses can survive and thrive. Government shouldn't take over enterprises that small business can provide the service.

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