Video/Live blog: Marco to embark on creation of redevelopment area

Town Center CRA discussion begins at IberiaBank In the Round

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Marco Island is embarking on the creation of a Community Redevelopment Authority for a 250-acre being called Town Center. The precise boundaries remain under review, but generally the area surrounding the shopping center by the same name is being considered for some sprucing up using property tax dollars within the Community Redevelopment Area.

The In the Round discussion is the first held by IberiaBank on Marco and will be led by the three panelists: Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala, Marco City Councilman Bill Trotter and Marco City Manager Steve Thompson.

Thompson is to present a CRA 101 on what it is and how it works.

Trotter is going to present a vision for the improvements for the area and Fiala is to share her experience with other CRA's in the county, including Fifth Avenue and Bayshore Area.

Generally in order to create a CRA, the area needs to be blighted or in need of historic preservation. Marco Island, through help from consultants, has found other criteria to indicate Marco's specific needs. Some of that criteria is to be presented tonight.

Live blog 7 p.m.

IberiaBank Vice President Keith Dameron welcomes about 75 people.

City Council will likely choose to be the Community Redevelopment Authority, as was the case in Naples, Thomspon said.

The area goes north to Rose Marine, to the East to St. Mark's Church, to the south to Smokehouse Bay Bridge and west to the water, he said.

It's primarily a commercial area.

"You're talking about public risk, you're talking about redevelopment...," Thompson said.

The properties within the area are to appreciate greater due to city improvements on public rights of way and the improvements are to be paid for through the projected increases in tax income coming from the properties' increased value.

He has said that property owners, particularly business owners, could be enticed to clean up and update their properties by having a commitment from the city to improve the streets and landscaping nearby if the businesses make the commitment.

"But for the city's involvement, will redevelopment happen anyway?" he asked rhetorically.

"If the answer is yes, than there is no role here for the city or county," he continued.

The area is the main business district on Marco Island.

"Public risk is a large part of this," Thompson said.

"The city is just as impacted as the county," he added.

Tax Increment Financing is the financial tool to raise money for the redevelopment. Public projects will be identified to promote private development. One such example, Thompson said, would be improved stormwater drainage.

He gave the example of a building presently valued at $1 million before the CRA is established. Out of that, the county, city and school district get tax dollars. Those taxing districts will continue to get the same amount based on that value after the CRA is created. If after improvements, the building is worth $2 million, the increment between the taxes before the CRA and after the CRA stays within that redeveloped area, Thompson said.

The economic blight, he added is that these businesses won't improve without the assistance. Nine of 11 state criteria were met within this area, Thompson said.

Naples generates about $2.8 million a year on tax revenues in their CRA. They use about $1 million of it to pay for debt service. They have a much more aggressive CRA than you'll see in this area, he said.

"We have a number of big steps to happen before we get to the implementation stage."

Trotter on the vision for Marco's Town Center

Trotter said he got involved in this due to the importance of the area in terms of the Island's long term development; redeveloping areas that need it and opportunities for grants, as well as, getting to keep incremental appreciation within the community.

"I see it as a win-win situation if it's done properly."

"Next, I think it's the right timing. The deterioration of property values is at a point where it is as low as it will go or at least we think it is... The Town Center depreciation is worse than other areas on the Island and in the county."

Trotter wanted to address misconceptions. There does not necessarily need to be a zoning change in this area, he said. There was mixed use and there will be perhaps more if development is encouraged, but that's not the intent.

"It's important to not only have good planning but good controls on this... The governing board should be the council itself," he said.

Part of this is also getting citizens' input. The city held charrettes inviting all property owners to discuss improvements they would like to see at meetings held in Spring 2009.

Fiala on the county's experience with other CRAs

"When you get your tax bill about 49 percent goes to the school system.... Then the county portion of your tax bill is about 27 percent," Fiala said.

The tax increment funding will go up because you'll freeze the property values at the lowest place in the market and values will go up.

Thompson said only the taxes for the city and county will be frozen.

So far, there are the Bayshore, Gateway Triangle, City of Naples and Immokalee CRAs.

"The Bayshore and Gateway Triangle neighborhoods were blighted and crime-ridden. I hate to say it because they are in my community, but they were."

The Bayshore area taxed themselves at 3 mils and made their own improvements. It didn't do much, so they created a CRA for Bayshore and the Gateway Triangle which is between the City of Naples, Davis Boulevard and Airport-Pulling Road.

"The people didn't want it because they didn't want to be known as a blighted area. Can you believe it?"

"In the first few years, it floundered and did nothing... Then we found Dave Johnson... We have 10 flop houses down there... flop houses with 15 people living in them."

Several properties were purchased by the CRA, fixed up and sold.

"You've got boarded up things... You've got crud," she said of the Triangle area.

The CRA owns seven of 14 areas there now. They could take them by imminent domain, but they haven't done it that way and don't want to, Fiala added.

She said flooding in the area is bad and stormwater management is part of the improvements there.

"Hopefully it will attract some businesses to come into that area."

There are 20 years left in the 30-year CRA for the triangle area, she said.

The CRA advisory board there is made up of people who live there are own businesses there, Fiala said.

The CRA offers 1/3 if the property owner puts up 2/3 to fix a roof or make other improvements.

Previously, Thompson said improvements to personal property was not a part of Marco's plan.

The funding is different as well, Fiala said.

"We need to give this area an identity before someone else does," Fiala said of Bayshore's CRA and her desire to bring arts there instead of bars.

Q&A

Marco resident and Eagle columnist Chris Curle asked if any people in the area are present. She held up papers showing photos of people's properties being identified as blighted.

She attempted to identify which person owned a building on the flyers identifying blight in the area. The buildings were auto shops and other commercial properties.

"Is there anything wrong about the building? If the driveway needs to be fixed, can't it be fixed with out a huge overlay of the city and county?" Curle asked.

"It's a judgment call and I don't have an answer... There may be public projects... street alignment issues that can be addressed," Thompson said.

"Whether you like the property or not, that's not my call. My taste is within my mouth as the saying goes," he added.

If the area continues to decline both the city and county will continue to lose money and the city and county doens't get the benefits of improvements until the CRA is dissolved, Thompson said.

"It's an artificial program," Marco resident Harvey Goldberg said.

"By virtue of this those property taxes over that first year level can't be used for other purposes or city projects outside the artificial district," Goldberg added.

Thompson said it's his first CRA in Florida, but he's managed cities with several TIFs in the past.

"I know this project is well on its way and I don't think anything anyone says here is going to make any difference," Goldberg said.

He said despite all the improvements on Marco in the past several years, including sewers, Collier Boulevard, parks and other large city projects, property values still went down because of the national economy.

Goldberg received applause from about half of the audience when he encouraged the city make needed public improvements without the CRA.

"No portion of this is going to raise your taxes... If you're convinced property values are going to go up without city involvement, than there is no role here," Thompson said.

Marco resident Russ Columbo questioned the process.

"So, the city stakes out an area and decides it's obsolete... Am I correct, we're kind of in simple terms... well, it's a crap shoot," Columbo said.

"A crap shoot is not the phrase I'd use... There is always some risk.. You hold me and everyone accountable that it should be an educated guess," Thompson said of the estimated projections.

"How is the spending cap of Marco affected?" Columbo asked.

"It's an independent authority... It would not affect the spending cap at all" Thompson said.

"You like acronyms, I would be careful, C-R-A-P up there," Columbo said pointing to a poster that read "CRA."

"I think there is much more to this project in the long run than what's being discussed... Will this be brought to the voters of Marco to be voted on?" asked Island resident Bill Flasche.

City Council would make the decision, Trotter said.

"It's using money the city wouldn't otherwise have," he added.

"Obviously there aren't a lot of commercial property owners here. The people here are concerned what will happen with personal money," said Beverly Boltz, who owns a travel agency on Island.

Boltz said Town Center rents were high and that's why people left and then more economic problems came.

She asked if the city was going to buy the property.

Thompson said no part of the private property is going to be taken care of with public money.

"Then what are you going to redevelop?" she asked of Thompson.

He replied that a master plan needs to be developed, but streets, landscaping, parking and stormwater are among the improvements.

"One of the prime needs is the (auto) accidents you've shown along Collier Boulevard... Is it going to help or is it going to exacerbate them?" asked Jim Johnston, a Marco resident. Johnston said he thought the redevelopment plan would increase density and therefor traffic accidents.

Thompson said he didn't know if density would increase greatly, but infrastructure improvements are part of any planning for it.

"Whether this will create density... I would have to say not that I know of... I keep hearing mixed-use as if it's a bad thing... But today, mixed use can work well. That's not my decision. That's a community decision we have in front of us," Thompson said.

"Why do you believe the solution to our problems is government?" asked resident and columnist Don Farmer.

"Why can't we just leave it to the private sector?" he asked.

"Should the city not be leading the private sector but following it?" Farmer continued.

"I didn't hear a question there," Thomson said.

"I say 'why, why, why?" Farmer replied.

"Do you wait until the property values and properties deteriorate to the point they bring others down?" Thompson asked.

"...And I don't have an answer," Thompson said.

"Are we taking this thorough bred Marco Island and making it look like a pig?" asked Marco resident and city watchdog Bill McMullan

Dameron approached McMullan urging he ask a question rather than make a speech.

Somebody has to make up the difference when those tax dollars from the economic recovery stays in that area, McMullan said.

Thompson agreed that the money will not come back to the city or county.

"That's why we don't want to over-TIFF this community," he added.

"Eventually we'll get our money by higher property values and we'll as taxpayers not have to pay as much," Thompson said.

There isn't too much risk because the money won't be spent until returns are being seen, Thompson said.

"This is a very emotional issue... We don't want to lose the industrial area we have... Who else is going to fix your car?" Marco resident Steve Stefanides asked.

"This will become an issue of circumventing the cap not making improvements," Stefanides said.

"Why wouldn't you look at a special taxing district with the consensus of those owners who know they'll see better times ahead?" he asked.

"We have improvements to make but we've got to take the fear out of this thing," Stefanides said.

Trotter said through earlier public meetings with property owners, they were supportive of improvements being made.

"We access funds that otherwise couldn't be accessed by the city... We have a finding of need," Trotter said.

"It's not about blight, it's about economic opportunity," Trotter said.

"People oppose this because their auto shop area has been identified as a source of blight, that is not the point," he continued.

Stefanides said the last five or six years of Comprehensive Plans showed no major defects and it was sent to Tallahassee.

Now Kimley-Horn shows we have all these problems.

Trotter said it's different because the plan given to the state requires the city to meet the standards, so they avoid stating the need to the state to avoid being required to make certain changes.

"If the people affected in this area and the residents don't like this, how do they stop it?" asked resident Linda Columbo.

"If you don't like it, contact the members of City Council," Thompson replied.

Someone yelled "how many people want it?"

Thompson replied "I don't think everyone in the city is here."

Either way, the audience didn't respond to the question.

Paula Campissano-Robinson said she wasn't for or against the project.

"I think you all brought a lot to the table tonight... I think we just need to see what is going to happen with the economy... I know many of the people who are here aren't in this district and I think we need to continue talking about it," she said.

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