As with the landscaping along U.S. Highway 98, the Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency continues to expand its roots in 2014.
With a $3.8 million investment in the community since 2006, the seeds have certainly been planted.
The PSJRA celebrated a successful 2013 last month, capping off a calendar year in which a new downtown banner series was unveiled, the new Billy Joe Rish Parking Lot and deck was completed, a project to construct new sidewalks along Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. finally has the green light and highway landscaping reached the George Tapper Bridge.
With a slide in property values having impacted the Tax Increment Funding – a percentage of property value increases within the boundaries of the PSJRA compared to a baseline year – that supports the PSJRA.
The county and city of Port St. Joe have both seen statute-required contributions to the PSJRA recede in the past few years.
But the agency has nonetheless been able to use those funds to bring more than $1.3 million in active grant funding during 2013.
“We have limited funds and we were diligent in leveraging those funds for grant dollars,” said executive director Gail Alsobrook.
Those grants have also contributed to the effort to move the Cape San Blas Lighthouse into the city as well as fund a documentary of that move as well as master planning for a new bayside park which city commissioners put on the backburner to concentrate on the lighthouse relocation.
The PSJRA has invested $2.5 million into the local business community, for projects from improvements in the neighborhood of North Port St. Joe – added to the expanded agency boundaries in the past five years – to planning and visioning to construction.
The efforts, Alsobrook said, is part of an agency goal to be an agent for improvement in the city.
“Redevelopment is a grassroots organization,” Alsobrook said. “There is nothing between what the people want and what the PSJRA can do.
“The PSJRA board is a product of board development. We have board members that represent the professions that give us the expertise we need.”
That grassroots effort, Alsobrook added, also includes partnerships – with the Gulf County Tourist Development Council on the Reid Avenue historic banner series or the Gulf County Chamber of Commerce on events such as the Salt Air Farmer’s Market.
That collaboration also extends to City Hall, where Alsobrook said she has gained significant assistance from city manager Jim Anderson and Public Works director John Grantland.
In the future, the PSJRA will seek collaboration with the newly-reorganized Downtown Merchants Association.
“We think that is a win for the community,” Alsobrook said.
The final phase of the U.S. 98 landscaping is complete and with the deck installed at the Billy Joe Rish Parking Memorial Parking Lot, Alsobrook said the PSJRA wants to create a community informational center.
“That is all part of our goal to make people want to stop and know what is in the city,” Alsobrook said. “That has been the challenge since day one. We are hoping to solve that to a degree.”
Another ongoing success story is the façade grant program which allows small businesses in the community to apply for funding to improve storefronts.
More than $400,000 has been invested in that program.
“We are very proud of the businesses who have taken advantage of the façade grant program,” Alsobrook said.
With new businesses arriving in 2013 and an uptick in visitors as tourism numbers spiked, the new year provides continuing opportunities for the kinds of investment the PSJRA has made in prior years.
Over three million seeds have already been planted.