Like a damp fuse, the proposal to create a Community Redevelopment Area, or CRA, in Marco Island’s commercial district sputtered along at a meeting Wednesday evening, not quite dying, but not catching fire, either.
Fourteen members of the CRA advisory panel met in the lobby of Iberia Bank on Bald Eagle Drive, to discuss alternatives, assess where to go from here, and solicit public comment. Not quite three dozen citizens showed up to listen or have their say. By the end of the meeting, members were questioning whether they should continue or disband, and the public comment voiced was strongly against forming the CRA.
The CRA is intended to provide funds to upgrade a specific area, in this case the 250 acres around Marco Town Center, and just what the upgrades would be were a subject of much discussion.
“Funding for what?” asked member Marv Needles. “Anytime someone starts a business, you have to decide what you want to do. We need a list. We need to prioritize.”
Committee member Richard Shanahan, not to be confused with fellow member Dick Shanahan, saw the issue as one of keeping local tax dollars on the island.
“Let’s keep the money on Marco. Marco money is going to the county. Let’s keep Marco money here to benefit Marco Island,” he said.
Dick Shanahan said for the CRA to succeed, the group needed a plan showing a vision of the desired outcome, and community consensus. A survey by the Marco Island Civic Association showed a strong majority against it.
The former city manager, Steve Thompson, chaired a previous forum at Iberia on the subject in March, and has since been terminated by the City Council. Interim City Manager Jim Riviere did not attend Wednesday’s meeting.
Deborah Travis of Trapper Custom Marine, and her sons, spoke against the creation of the CRA. Trapper has locations in Naples as well as Marco Island, and the company’s Naples location is currently within a CRA.
“My assessed value has gone up, for no reason but streetlights. My taxes went up,” she said. “Bottom line, it does cost me more money.”
“The 40 percent vacancy rate in Town Center is because of the economy,” said Jason Travis, and it would not be turned around by a beautification project.
Civic Association President Fay Biles said that the Bayshore business district in Naples had benefited from the CRA. “It was a bad area, with prostitutes and flophouses,” she said. “When property values go up, taxes go up.”
Keith Dameron, vice president and branch manager of Iberia Bank, which hosted the meeting, called the committee’s attention to a Finding of Necessity for the Town Center CRA prepared in 2009 by Kimley-Horn and Associates. The 46-page document, available on the city’s website, listed many of the specific improvements and benefits the advisory panel was asking for, he said.
Councilman Chuck Kiester, the non-voting chairman of the group, shared a list of alternatives he had prepared, asking if there was any consensus for moving forward. After more discussion, the panel voted, with nine for and the others abstaining, to adopt his recommendations. They agreed to: “Reconsider CRA after a couple of years since property values continue to decrease and nothing would be lost in waiting,” and “request City Council to direct the planning board to review appropriateness of commercial area overlays as a guide for improvements.”
“All of the above options,” said Kiester’s memo, “are affected by the refusal of the single largest landowner of the mall to participate in any rehab effort, at least at this time, given the economy.”
“I think this committee’s dead,” said Needles. “This is the third meeting, and the only thing we’ve done is postpone it.”
“I feel we just voted to do nothing,” said member Constance Aria.
With the crowd trickling out, a bare majority of eight panel members voted to meet again. City planner Kris van Lengen pointed out it is up to the City Council what to do next.