CRA staff discusses dissolving Downtown CRA

By: Mariel Carbone | WCTV Eyewitness News
July 19, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- City and county leaders met Wednesday morning for the first Community Redevelopment Agency meeting since news broke of an FBI investigation into its development deals.

CRA Chair and County Commissioner Nick Maddox addressed the "elephant in the room" prior to any discussions beginning.

"Before we begin, I would just like to acknowledge the elephant in the room related to the news coverage of the reported investigation," said Maddox. "I know we are eagerly anticipating answers to all the speculation that has risen. While we do not know what will come out of all that, what I have great confidence in is the dealing of all the business that has come before the CRA board."

Despite the mention of the investigation, business at the meeting went on as usual.

The board moved forward on two major projects, including the authorization to negotiate a funding agreement with North American Properties for the Firestone and Bloxham properties, and negotiations for the residential development of the Envision Credit Union property.

Then, the discussion turned to the potential phasing out of the downtown CRA. Wednesday's meeting was the first time the board has
been able to discuss the topic since the county voted to pull out of the agency and the CRA was issued an FBI subpoena.

CRA staff said it plans to look at all the projects that have been completed in the downtown district in the past 15 years. They'll also pull facts on what it means to fund different projects, the pros and cons of dissolving, other redevelopment tools, and what other downtown issues still need to be addressed.

Staff originally said it would bring the information back in January, but that date was moved to September following requests by the board.

While the discussions are occurring, the board moved to not take on any more large-scale projects amounting to more than $2 million.

The main reason the County wants to dissolve the Downtown District is because it feels the district is no longer needed. The County has also considered using the additional money to offset a potential loss of funding due to a possible change in the homestead tax.

Some don't agree with a dissolution.

"I just don't think it's helpful to have a conversation about the future of the CRA in the context of 'we need to fill a budget hole.' I think that's wrong-headed," said Mayor Andrew Gillum.

For Commissioner Curtis Richardson, there's been too much of a focus on the Downtown District.

"We're talking millions of dollars in downtown structures, 'yeah let's do it'. That needs to stop," he said.

Richardson would like the focus to be moved to the Southside.

"I want us to begin spending more time discussing those conditions than what's happening in downtown Tallahassee," he said.

Richardson requested that the staff discuss what steps need to be taken to create a South City CRA district. Staff will bring that information back in September.

Other considerations include a workshop on different options for sun setting the downtown CRA, as well as the possibility of continuing the CRA without county funding.

Although the discussions have begun, the decision to dissolve the CRA is not final. The decision is a bi-lateral one, with both the city and county needing to agree.

"If the county sees in the end, after everything is presented, to dissolve the downtown, I think there's probably enough support. But, I don't think we're there yet," said City Commissioner Gil Ziffer.

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