Not all sold on Marco Town Center CRA
In the Round discussion on Town Center ...
MARCO ISLAND — Blighted or not blighted, when it comes to redeveloping Marco’s business district, many residents were vocally opposed to the idea Thursday night.
About 80 residents explored the pros and cons of creating a Community Redevelopment Area in an approximate 250-acre area surrounding Marco’s Town Center shopping center during an “In the Round” discussion at IberiaBank .
Often, CRA’s are used to spruce up a crime-ridden, blighted or historical preservation area. Some contend that despite a report by Kimley-Horn and Associates indicating a need for a CRA on Marco, the Island doesn’t fit the bill.
“Are we taking this thorough bred, Marco Island, and making it look like a pig?” asked city watchdog and resident Bill McMullan.
City Manager Steve Thompson said if the word blight described anything on Marco he would call it “economic blight” in that the commercial district may not invest in itself without the city’s help.
“But for the city’s involvement, will redevelopment happen anyway?” he often repeated during the evening.
“If the answer is yes, than there is no role here for the city or county.”
For City Councilman Trotter, it wasn’t about blight, rather it was an economic opportunity to capture appreciating values and some county dollars to use on Marco.
Many of the 80 residents in attendance flooded the panelists, including Thompson, Trotter and Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala, with more comments than questions during the Q&A.
Often the audience’s winded opposition led the host, IberiaBank Vice President Keith Dameron, to ask the individual what, precisely, was their question.
Resident and Eagle columnist Chris Curle questioned whether the fliers showing specific properties on Island as blighted were just a sign that some properties' owners might need a new driveway.
The city’s hired consultant Kimley Horn and Associates found the area qualified because “dilapidation, deterioration, age or obsolescence” was evidenced by lack of real estate value increases, faulty lot layout, higher rate of emergency calls and auto accidents, diversity of ownership, higher than average code violations, as well as other factors.
Several business owners from the area discussed opportunities to improve pedestrian safety, traffic problems, flooding and mixed-use housing at earlier public meetings held on the idea.
“Obviously, there aren’t a lot of commercial property owners here now,” said Beverly Boltz, who owns a travel agency on Island.
Boltz asked if the city would consider buying the Town Center plaza. Thompson replied that no public money would be spent on a private property.
“Then what are you going to redevelop?” she asked.
A plan is yet to be created, but street, landscaping, parking and stormwater improvements were likely aspects of it.
Marco resident Jim Johnston questioned whether the redevelopment might actually worsen the higher traffic accident rates because density would increase.
Thompson wasn’t sure density would increase, but said if it did, infrastructure, such as roads, would be part of the redevelopment.
Marco resident and Eagle columnist Don Farmer threw three questions on the table:
“Why do you believe the solution to our problems is government? Why can’t we just leave it to the private sector? Should the city not be leading the private sector, but following it?”
“Do you wait until the property values and properties deteriorate to the point they bring others down?” Thompson asked.
“I don’t have an answer,” he said.
Trotter said the timing was perfect.
“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,” he said.
Fiala agreed that the timing of hitting the low end of the market gave the area potentially a good amount of money to reinvest.
The city’s redevelopment will be paid for by Tax Increment Financing, Thompson said. The money for improvements both comes from increased property values and is assumed to be the cause of the increase in property values.
The tax income to the city and county, but not other taxing districts such as mosquito control and schools, are frozen at the level they received just before the CRA is created. As the property values increase, that difference in what the property owners would have paid in city and county taxes compared with the new taxes on the new value stays to be used only within the CRA.
The Community Redevelopment Authority would commit to make improvements in areas where owners are also committed to reinvest in their properties, Thompson said.
“It’s important to not only have good planning, but good controls on this... The governing board should be the council itself,” Trotter said.
Not everyone in the audience agreed and wondered aloud why other options weren’t on the table.
“Why wouldn’t you look at a special taxing district with consensus of those owners, who know they’ll see better times ahead?” asked Marco resident Steve Stefanides, a member of the Marco Island Civic Association board.
“We access funds that otherwise couldn’t be accessed by the city,” Trotter said.
Another concern residents voiced was the inability to stop the train of the CRA.
“I know this project is well on its way and I don’t think anything anyone says here is going to make any difference,” said resident Harvey Goldberg.
He said with all the recent sewer, Collier Boulevard, park and other improvements made by the city, Marco’s real estate values still declined because of the national economy.
“If the people affected in this area and the residents (of Marco) 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.