Monday, November 30, 2020

Yea or Nay to Marco CRA

by Chuck Kiester

A Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) is a tool established by state statutes to allow local governments to kick-start redevelopment of commercial and/or residential areas that are in decline.

Fifth Avenue in Naples is an example of a successful CRA. Anyone who has been there knows how nice a shopping and gathering area it is. As is the case of Fifth Avenue before the CRA, several of Marco’s commercial areas contain buildings and storefronts which are not suitable for the needs of modern businesses.

The “too small” Publix, located within the Town Center, is a perfect example of this. It and the surrounding commercial area were constructed decades ago. Many, if not most of the properties within the proposed Marco CRA, are considered non-conforming based on current codes and these need to be brought up to date to have any chance of success in attracting new development. We have all seen increasing number of vacant storefronts over the past several years.

I understand and agree with some of the concerns a number of you have voiced to me either personally, via email or at public meetings. The following is my take on the primary issues.

Concern #1:
Establishment of the CRA will result in taxes either being increased or tax monies diverted from other areas of the city since monies collected with the increase in taxable value within the CRA must be spent in the CRA on public works projects.

My Take:
Yes, it possibly could but I doubt it. Whether the city establishes a CRA or not will make no difference to the need for public improvements within the area proposed to be included in the CRA regarding drainage, intersection improvements, etc. This is especially true in the light industrial/heavy commercial area of East Elkcam Circle. One way or other, our taxes will be used to fund these improvements. In other words, the city will have to divert some of its hometown tax dollars to fixing these problems regardless of whether we have a CRA or not.

My point here is why not let the county help pay for it? Many of us complain all the time that the island is a “donor” of taxes to the county given our high taxable values. The city’s CRA would “capture” the taxes from the county as well as from the city, both of which could only be spent on public works improvements within the CRA.

Concern #2:
Establishment of the CRA will have an adverse effect on other shopping centers and strip commercial areas in the city.

My Take:
Again based on the experience of CRAs in other jurisdictions, yes, it possibly could do just that by giving those businesses within the CRA a competitive advantage over businesses in other areas. In the case of Marco, however, these other businesses already enjoy the types of public improvements that some of the areas included with the proposed CRA do not have. This inequity is due to the fact that they were developed much later than the city’s core center.

Concern #3:
Establishment of the CRA will create more long-term debt for the City.

My Take:
Yes, it could. However, as many of my fellow Americans like to say, this will only happen “over my dead body.” Let me make myself absolutely clear. I will support going forward with establishing the CRA only if one of the conditions is “pay as you go.”

Concern #4:
Establishment of the CRA will perpetuate the construction activities which we year-round residents have endured for far too many years with the Collier Blvd. project and the STRP.

My Take:
Again, anything is possible. However, with the “pay as you go” plan, it will take several years to accumulate enough revenue from the CRA before actual construction can begin. It is predicted that Marco’s taxable values will again decrease this year, and the drop will be county-wide. Ergo, there will be no money from either city or county to initiate public works projects within the CRA for several years down the road, so this may be a moot point.

Concern #5:
The CRA can fail. What then?

My Take:
Of course, designated CRAs can fail if the private sector entrepreneurs do not buy into the program, but sometimes one has to take a chance. And, with “pay as you go,” the chance of harm to our residents is lessoned. Should the CRA fail and be rescinded, then all remaining monies collected to underwrite the CRA account will be returned to the city and county governments. This would be in accordance with the proportional amount of the tax revenues they have contributed.

Bottom line for me as a Councilor and a tax-paying citizen:
At this time, my position is that should the financial analysis come back negative, the city should not pursue the CRA even though I know that eventually something like this will be needed in the future to modernize our business sector. I will also oppose it if the “pay as you go” provision is not included. These decisions cannot be made until the results of the financial analysis is concluded (of which, I will be taking a very close look at the fine print, e.g., assumptions).

Email: charleskiester@comcast.net

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