In June 2013, the St. Petersburg City Council passed resolution 2012-416 a community redevelopment plan aimed at improving the blighted conditions within my neighborhood, “aka” Midtown. Once again I am excited about the potential of public funds being used to aide in improving the quality of life in Midtown, just as public funds have been utilized to spark real economic development in downtown and other St. Petersburg neighborhoods.
My excitement is somewhat tempered as a result of the 20 plus previous projects or economic development strategies aimed at improving the quality of life for residents and business owners within Midtown, which have occurred between 1999 and 2012.
Yet, a 2013 poverty study commissioned by the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners report that the poverty rate in “south” St. Petersburg is among one of five high risk zones within in the county where the poverty rates in those areas are higher than the poverty rate within the entire county.
At last count, the total amount of public dollars estimated to have already been spent in Midtown comes in roughly at $207 million dollars between 1999 and 2012. I am certain there are those who look at those numbers and ask how could $207 million dollars be invested in Midtown and the county still be able to publish a poverty study that pretty much tells the same story about the quality of life in the area after millions of public dollar being poured into it.
While there are those that question how could that be, my response is simple: follow the money.
While an estimated $207 million public dollars may have been invested into Midtown, that doesn’t translate into there being attached to those expenditures some type of strategic plan aimed at targeting very complex socioeconomic issues that disproportionately impact the residents and business of Midtown.
Most often those investments were tied to politically inspired projects and shovel ready projects that just happened to be in Midtown. There usually was a benefit, for example major public incentives that resulted in minimal risks for the individuals or corporations investing in Midtown.
While this may be one of the strategies of economic development, public officials and the community must ensure that any investments handed out in the CRA process is tied directly to the benefit of Midtown residents and business owners.
However, because our Father in Heaven is a forgiving God, public officials, the Midtown residents, business owners and other stakeholders have yet another opportunity to get it right this time! The foundation to the development and implementation of a successful redevelopment plan for Midtown has to be grounded in the development of a strategic action plan that encompasses the following core components:
• A strategic action plan with short, midterm and long term measurable outcomes that when completed they are tied directly to outcomes that impact the residents and Midtown quality of life
• A strategic action plan that identifies an estimated number of Midtown residents
and businesses that could be potentially impacted by the CRA strategic action plan
• A strategic action plan that has clearly defined priorities
• Transparency defined as a process by which city staff and the CRA advisory committee members establish a process that affords an opportunity for the residents and business owners of Midtown to be actively engaged in the development of the strategic action plan
• A strategic action plan that is formatted in a way that Midtown residents, business owners and the general public can understand
• A strategic action plan that clearly delineates what public monies are being used, i.e. TIF, grants, private funding, etc.?
Churches, Greek organizations, social clubs, class reunion organizations, postal organizations, young, old, retirees, working folks, families, and business owners — history and the bible has taught that a man that does not work, does not eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:10!)
If this plan and the execution of this plan do not generate tangible outcomes aimed at improving the quality of life for the residents and business owners within Midtown, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
This is a plan that requires work and long-term commitment! There are opportunists lined up at the trough waiting and watching for the crumbs to fall because they are counting on us remaining idle! No one, no matter how well intended, is going to do more for us than we are willing to do for ourselves!
Maria L. Scruggs