Moving into the next stage in a broad effort to revitalize one of Port St. Joe’s oldest neighborhoods, 20 members of the North Port St. Joe Project Area Coalition recently attended a two-day Leadership Retreat in Tallahassee.

Moving into the next stage in a broad effort to revitalize one of Port St. Joe’s oldest neighborhoods, 20 members of the North Port St. Joe Project Area Coalition recently attended a two-day Leadership Retreat in Tallahassee.

Among the group were Port St. Joe Mayor Bo Patterson and eight pastors representing the community’s churches.

The event was designed to build upon the momentum of February’s leadership meeting at the Washington High School complex, which was the culmination of a series of public workshops regarding redevelopment of North Port St. Joe.

The workshops, and input from the public, were critical in crafting a redevelopment plan for the area.

The next steps were building community buy-in while firming up an organizational structure and implementation plan.

The retreat was held in Tallahassee so that the leadership group could visit Frenchtown, Quincy as well Havana to experience first-hand the work of the Big Bend Community Development Corporation.

The not-for-profit CDC, which hosted the retreat, has been active for over 15 years during which time it has attracted over $25 million of redevelopment funding for these communities.

Tom Lewis, the CDC’s Executive Director explained to the group how important it was to build local leadership, attract a wide array of financial support, as well as form practical partnerships to “get the job done.”

The group toured restored storefronts and historic homes, new-built homes, a permanent location for the weekly farmers market and an 88-unit building of affordable apartments that was under construction in the heart of the community.

Moving on to Quincy, 30 minutes away, the CDC’s tour took in the conversion of Florida’s first bank building into a museum and, at nearby Havana, the reuse of a former elementary school and its extensive grounds as an engineering and technology campus.

The retreat also included working sessions, during which the leadership group was brought together to review North Port St. Joe’s 2016 Redevelopment Implementation Plan and map out its immediate next steps.

The restoration of Martin Luther King Boulevard remains a number one priority. Enlivened by the work of Big Bend CDC, there followed a constructive discussion of the active role of the Pastors and their congregations in the redevelopment process, especially in fostering complimentary programs to create strength, prosperity and resilience of North Port St Joe.

“Redevelopment isn’t just brick and mortar,” said NPSJ-PAC President Chester Davis. “We also have to think about the health and wellness of our community. Our largest sub-committee right now is bringing together local health providers and stakeholders to focus on this issue ”

The retreat also addressed critical issues such as increasing community engagement, economic development, family and individual asset and wealth building and improving public safety.

Perhaps the most notable outcome of these discussions was the Pastors uniting as a a group to affirm enthusiastically their commitment to the implementation of the redevelopment plan.

Furthermore, they acknowledged that what they had seen in Frenchtown and beyond and learned from the Big Bend CDC should be applied to North Port St. Joe. This sentiment was overwhelmingly endorsed by all of the retreat’s attendees as they prepared for the drive home.