Reaching beyond the community.

An economic community roundtable later this month will seek to broaden the appeal for the revitalizing the neighborhood of North Port St. Joe while supporting the rezoning of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.

Timothy Beard, President of Pasco-Hernando State College and a native of Port St. Joe, will lead the roundtable Sept. 29 at the ARC/Gulf Transportation Building on Water Plant Road.

The roundtable is scheduled for 9 a.m. until 12 noon ET.

The roundtable is the latest step forward for the North Port St. Joe Project Area Coalition (NPSJ-PAC), which has worked the past two years to update the master plan first crafted when the city’s community redevelopment agency boundaries were expanded to include NPSJ.

That group, working with consultants of community planning and design, zeroed in on MLK Blvd. as a key to unlocking the economic potential of the area.

The master plan update included a rezoning of MLK Blvd. as a fulcrum for redevelopment, with the Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency and City Commission providing unanimous support for the effort.

From that rezoning, several projects aimed at sparking economic development have been proposed and considered, including mixed use retail and residential development, senior housing and children’s daycare facilities.

“But the community of North Port St. Joe knows that when it comes to local support, financial and other resources are limited,” Beard detailed in an invitation to the roundtable.

“The PAC has achieved much, but its strength lies in its local roots. Now it is ready to attract new energy, ideas and investment.”

The PAC has, from the outset, understood that a key would be attracting outside investment and support from lenders, politicians, non-profit organizations and those former residents who live elsewhere and have the desire to see their former neighborhood restored.

“The once-vibrant Northwest Florida neighborhood of North Port St. Joe, where I grew up, has been allowed to remain blighted for too long,” Beard noted.

The half-day roundtable, he added, “enables the community to connect with agents of change … (who) may be able to help directly the local landowners achieve their goals or (who) may know others that could come to the table.”

The rezoning of MLK Blvd. remains in the early stages as the city’s planner moves forward on several surveys, of local property owners and impacted residents, required of the process.

Much of the initial work has been performed by consultant John Hendry, who provided substantial flexibility in supporting documents for the city to move ahead.

The rezoning plan, Hendry said, outlined infrastructure improvements and information necessary to amend the city’s comp plan and LDRs to attract investment and economic development along Martin Luther King.

The overall plan proposes three “overlay districts”, rezoning, believed essential to revitalizing the MLK business and residential mixed use corridor.

Attracting investment along MLK would be best accomplished with districts, tailored by varying the underlying land use regulations to meet a district’s needs.

The tool is often used across the country as cities attempt to revitalize struggling downtowns, Hendry said.

One example.

Current LDRs allow up to 15 residential units per acre; allowing “up to” two dwelling units in a mixed-use building on a typical 5.500 square-foot lot on MLK.

A new three-story mixed use building on that same lot would provide at least three dwelling units above a ground floor of retail space.

Adding an additional floor could provide up to six residential units; in this case simply eliminating the 15 units per acre rule for that specific district would “significantly increase the feasibility of MLK regaining its soul as a commercial district,” Hendry said.

The primary issue along MLK is the mixed use zoning which, Hendry said, does not work for the neighborhood and needs to be updated.

The new zoning plan proposes more flexibility and a more tailored approach to zoning density rules.

Hendry also noted that a range of real estate and economic development incentives have been identified as part of the rezoning plan.

The NPSJ-PAC is also using the plan has a platform for seeking outside funding for infrastructure improvements.

“This community has worked hard but now it needs the capacity to bring their projects to life,” Beard noted.

The roundtable workshop would also help spread the “news that North Port St. Joe is ready to begin a long-needed renaissance.”