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Council to get refresher course on downtown CRA

By Staff | Apr 5, 2008

Magic can happen in downtown Cape Coral if the city continues to express a strong commitment to its future, and the chairman of the redevelopment board plans to give the city council an update on activity in the area and a refresher course on what exactly constitutes a CRA.

“We’re reminding them that they are in the driver’s seat and we want to tell them where we’re driving and we want to make sure we’re going in the direction they want us to go,” said John Jacobsen. “We’re going to give them a whole list of what we’re working on and where we are in those processes.”

Chief on the list of reminders planned for Monday is the fact that the agency and its board do not make the final call on virtually any decision for the downtown.

“The CRA is not a governing body. We don’t make ordinances, we don’t issue permits, except for paint. Most people don’t know that,” Jacobsen said.

The council also signs off on the CRA’s budget, financing agreements and even who sits on its board. Jacobsen also plans to remind the elected officials that the agency is somewhat limited by state law as to what it can and cannot do.

“All the taxing authorities have to agree to the creation of the CRA and what we are allowed and not allowed to do are governed by Chapter 163,” he said. “If it is not in the plan, even if it’s allowed by the statute, we can’t do it.”

But the CRA’s plan is solid, Jacobsen maintains, as it moves forward with several transformational projects as well as the master stormwater plan, and utilities study which council will examine in the near future. Commitment to expanding the downtown’s commercial base is critical as, according to Jacobsen, a soon-to- be-completed market study showed that the area is losing out on a substantial amount of money on an annual basis from consumers just within a five minute drive because of a lack of development.

“If the stores and restaurants were available downtown; we are losing $75 million every year,” he said.

The chairman cited the dramatic transformation of a severely blighted area of West Palm Beach that turned completely around in just 18 months. The key component to the change, aside from a $20 million public investment and $630 million in private investments, was the dedication elected officials had to the project. Jacobsen believes that Cape Coral can take many components from the West Palm model and other municipalities that have changed sections of their cities and use it to transform the downtown here.

“The main thing to learn is that we’re not to invent something. This has been done successfully not just in Florida but throughout the world,” he said. “We have to make it predictable and easy to develop in the downtown and we have to use our (tax increment financing) dollars in the smartest way.”