Members of the North Port St. Joe Project Area Committee(PAC) met last Saturday to discuss ongoing efforts to redevelop the North Port St. Joe area.



Members of the North Port St. Joe Project Area Committee(PAC) met last Saturday to discuss ongoing efforts to redevelop the North Port St. Joe area.

The PAC was joined by leading members of the Big Bend Community Development Corporation (Big Bend CDC), which is partnering with the PAC to share knowledge from the redevelopment of the Frenchtown area of Tallahassee.

According to John Hendry, a consultant working with the PAC, work on a detailed plan for the redevelopment of Martin Luther King Blvd. is ongoing and Hendry estimates that the group will present the plan to city officials, which can then be used for zoning purposes, in November.

Hendry laid out a detailed timeline of the events that led the PAC and the city as a whole to the current status.

While noting that the first attempt at organizing redevelopment in North Port St. Joe fell short, Hendry said that many lessons were learned.

Those lessons learned led to a recent updating of the master plan that was rolled into the overall Port St. Joe Master Plan.

The original master plan relied heavily on tax increment financing (TIF) funds which have been limited, or non-existent, since the recession of nearly a decade ago.

According to Hendry, the recession not only hurt redevelopment efforts in North Port St. Joe but throughout the entire nation.

“There is a feeling that now is the opportunity to turn around what has happened in North Port St. Joe and start to see something done,” Hendry said.

According to Hendry, that feeling comes from a sense of community opportunity and a major recovery happening in Florida.

Hendry said that the updated master plan offers a more detailed focus on redevelopment while removing reliance on TIF funds by looking for outside sources of funding.

Hendry also outlined the steps that he believed need to be taken to further the PAC’s mission.

Those steps include completion of the detailed Martin Luther King Blvd. plan as well as zoning changes, a memorandum of understanding between the PAC and the Big Bend CDC, concentration on Martin Luther King Blvd., readying of property for investment and the need to go after all available funds, including Triumph funds.

Tom Lewis, the executive director of the Big Bend CDC, and Regina Davis, the CDC’s founder, were on hand to share some of the lessons they have learned throughout the nearly 20-year history of the Big Bend CDC.

Davis quit her state government job to start what was then known as the Frenchtown Community Development Corporation, which went on to become the Big Bend CDC.

According to Davis, the Big Bend CDC has partnered with private and public organizations to fund the construction of low-cost quality homes and business, as well as play host to a variety of community-based events.

Davis gave an in-depth history of the Big Bend CDC’s efforts, as well as shared learning experiences she has had along the way.

“Dream big,” Davis said. “It takes time but you dream big and then you figure it out as you go.”

While Davis highlighted her work in providing housing for low and very-low income residents, she also spoke on economic improvement to the Frenchtown area.

The Big Bend CDC is nearing completion of a $20 million affordable housing project in Frenchtown.

“When I started in 2000, I was told I could not sell a house for over $60,000 in Frenchtown,” Davis said.

The Big Bend CDC is also working on an international deal to bring in Indian technology students into a repurposed schoolhouse that the group purchased for a short period of time.

The exchange program will then lead to capital improvements to the property that will then be handed back to the Big Bend CDC.

According to Davis, the hope is the partnership will lead into a planned mixed income community built on the site.

“If the essence of the objective is to revitalize the community, you have to have a plan that ultimately creates wealth for those in the community,” said Lewis.

After the meeting was wrapped up, PAC president Chester Davis took the visiting Big Bend CDC members and city officials on a tour of the city.

The visitors were encouraged and confident that the PAC's efforts were headed in the right direction and reaffirmed their ability to help in any way possible.