If you follow the Florida Legislature, prepare to hear a lot of criticism about Community Redevelopment Agencies. As you consider these mostly unfounded complaints, I’d ask the people of Fort Pierce to think about a few of the revitalization projects that have been completed in our CRA district:
- The restored and enlarged Fort Pierce City Marina, which had its grand reopening a decade after back-to-back hurricanes Frances and Jeanne destroyed it and most of its boats in 2004. A system of islands now protects the marina and the waterfront. The marina suffered little to no damage in hurricanes Matthew and Irma.
- Our restored Sunrise Theatre, enhanced Veterans Memorial Park and new Melody Lane Fishing Pier, all of which attract residents and visitors to the city’s downtown waterfront corridor.
- Our Intermodal Transit Facility, located in a previously transportation-challenged neighborhood, which provides bus transport to residents to and from jobs, doctors, hospitals and shopping areas.
These are just a few examples of redevelopment in the city of Fort Pierce. Unfortunately, legislation expected to come before the Florida Legislature would jeopardize the CRA and its ability to undertake similar projects in the future.
In the Florida House, at least, the pressure against more than 220 CRAs across the state comes from the very top. Because of questionable practices in a few CRAs, critics have called for stricter auditing and oversight, ethics training for authority leaders and other improvements that many city leaders would welcome, including me.
But any attempt by the Legislature to impede the creation of new CRAs, or to phase out existing CRAs, would be a terrible mistake — one that would halt the progress historic cities like Fort Pierce have been making toward revitalizing our neighborhoods and economies.
CRAs allow local leaders to target blighted areas for redevelopment. The money comes from “tax increment financing,” defined as increased tax receipts arising from business growth attributable to its investments in the targeted areas. CRAs dedicate those funds to further improve the CRA district.
Fort Pierce’s CRA dates to 1982, and has been expanded from time to time. It has produced many improvements, including Jetty Park and Highway A1A and beach amenities that have lured thriving businesses like the Square Grouper and Inlet Grill.
The CRA produced the downtown parking garage that provides free parking to businesses and venues and is a key aspect in the revitalization in downtown.
CRA funds helped rehabilitate the old YMCA building for the Fort Pierce Police Athletic League and helped construct our Human Development Resources Center, a collaboration with Indian River State College. The city’s Percy Peek Gymnasium is a venue for Boys Girls Clubs activities, summer camps, basketball clinics and tournaments, job fairs and many positive youth activities.
The CRA helped rehabilitate houses and apartment buildings on Orange Avenue. It collaborated with state and federal agencies to purchase land and build houses on 12th and 13th streets, and reclaimed a failing neighborhood.
All CRAs are not alike, and they don’t always make universally popular choices. I, personally, have not agreed with everything our CRA has spent money on. Still, the program was designed to give aging cities an opportunity to flourish again. Investments made years, even decades, ago now are paying dividends.
Our CRA enjoys the support of both the city and the county. We have an advisory committee of citizens who live or work within the targeted area. The program has been transparent and fair. If legislators saw our city now, they would have to admit the CRA has helped Fort Pierce establish itself as a beautiful beach and tourist town with an historic, vibrant downtown and neighborhoods proud of their art, culture and history. Our seaport is on the brink of a rebirth.
It would be a terrible shame to halt the renaissance of Fort Pierce.
Linda Hudson is mayor of the city of Fort Pierce.