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CRA looks to the future

By Staff | Jul 24, 2010

Thirty years ago Miami Beach was a sleepy community that catered almost entirely to retirees, with bargain basement property values and a lack of the cultural influence that would come to define the city three decades later.
Acclaimed urban visionary Bernard Zyscovich — a Miami Beach native — used the city not as an example of what he thinks Cape Coral should become, but instead as an example of how much a community can change over a short period of time, given the right combination of planning, partnership, and leadership.
“This is a challenge, this is as tough as it gets,” he said of Cape Coral during an interview before Tuesday’s Community Redevelopment Agency meeting. “But that challenge is also interesting … and though our mission is the CRA, you can’t help but have the entire city in mind.”
Zyscovich and his firm is charged with designing the 2030 Vision Plan for the CRA his resume is long and accomplished.
Not only has he had his hand in redefining Miami Beach and other communities for a new century, his firm is currently working with the cities of Jacksonville and New Orleans.
Zyscovich called Cape Coral’s CRA one of the most challenging projects on which his team has ever worked, a sprawling mega neighborhood without any true, defined sense of place.
With his team focusing solely on the CRA, he said there’s more of a base to create that sense of place, but he still views the project as one of the most challenging he’s ever approached.
Zyscovich described the city as both homogenous and monotonous — and without individual or neighborhoods and identities, the city will forever have a hard time separating itself from other places in the region.
The CRA is an opportunity to define one of those neighborhoods, and that’s where Zyscovich and his team of planners, architects and financial experts come in.
“Without a vision plan, Cape Coral will always be second fiddle to other places in the region,” he said.
Two decades from now downtown Cape Coral could be completely different, a thriving, and culturally rich destination for people from both inside and outside the city.
To do that, Paul Lambert from Lambert and Associates, said the CRA board will have to focus on what they do have, which is an existing matrix of restaurants and entertainment.
Financial experts for Zyscovich, Lambert and Associates advised the CRA board that a big box retailer, such as Barnes and Noble, will not not make downtown into a destination. Instead, a large retailer will add to what had been cultivated over the years.
“Retailers are always behind the curve,” Lambert said. “They’re watching for where people are and following. There’s an opportunity to get there, but there are interim steps before that will happen.”
Another challenge downtown faces is the difficulty in piecing together enough tracts to build a big box retail store.
That challenge, Lambert said, is one downtown will always lose to the Pine Island Road corridor, where single owners possess the necessary real estate to attract stores like the Target and Lowes hardware stores already in operation.
So, in that way, the CRA must develop its own niche, a mix of entertainment opportunities that appeal to all ages, all nationalities and interests, Lambert said.
“They can’t compete with the Pine Island corridor,” Lambert said. “They have to differentiate themselves from other parts of the city.”
Designing a workable vision for the CRA is only part of the equation.
Leadership will be key in implementing that vision, Zyscovich said, though he said the role of his firm is to also act as “guides in the wilderness.”
The firm not only designs vision plans, but also writes the codes and ordinances needed to bring a plan to life.
Not worried about stepping on toes or challenging egos, Zyscovich said it was key for his firm, his vision plan, to demonstrate the value of what is possible for everyone, not just those within the confines of the CRA’s boundaries.
“We want to illustrate how everyone can come out of this with more than when they went in,” Zyscovich added.
The new vision plan is due in mid November.
The CRA entered into a contract with Zyscovich to design the vision plan on March 30 at a cost of $209,300.
It’s the second vision plan for the area in less than a decade, following the so-called “Dover-Kohl Plan” that was written in 2001.
Written, in part, to capture the gold rush mentality of the city’s building boom, the Dover-Kohl plan was antiquated almost as soon as it was completed, according to CRA Executive Director John Jacobsen.
Jacobsen said the codes needed to enact the plan were not even in place until 2007, as the precipice of the housing collapse loomed.
“The Dover-Kohl plan was built around an explosive real estate market … if we were still in that market the plan would have a greater chance of success,” he said. “It had a good chance of success, of being useful, if it kicked in in the 2004 time frame, but the enabling codes to allow the plan weren’t enacted until 2007.”
Jacobsen admits, though, that had the Dover-Kohl plan been realized, the downtown Cape Coral could be plagued with a smattering of vacant high rises as are other areas, including downtown Fort Myers.
In that way, he thinks the plan’s failure was a “blessing in disguise,” and that Zyscovich now has the chance to untangle the confusion the Dover-Kohl plan created.
“Instead of lofty goals or a cookie cutter approach, he’s (Zyscovich) looking at what we’ll get results with in the short term,” Jacobsen added. “It’s a complete package with Bernard, and that’s the big difference. He’s not planning an artificial world.”
CRA Chairman Don Heisler said he’s looking forward to getting his hands on the completed report in November, but he also realizes that having the report is just another step, not the final step, in a challenge that will take years to unfold.
He said the presentation from Lambert and Associates on Tuesday helped to reinforce his suspicions that Pine Island Road and the CRA are indeed two entirely different beasts.
He said it’s important for people to understand, and accept, what the CRA is and needs to be. Without that acceptance, he said, it didn’t matter what vision plan they had, who was designing it, or who was going to implement it.
“Whether we (the CRA) exist or not, the same circumstances are here,” he said. “We are guilty of unrealistic expectations down here … We will not be a Miami Beach, but we can make the same kind of strides, just not in the same direction.”
Zyscovich said that if his vision plan fails, then he’s not certain if anything can help the CRA become a thriving, and vibrant location.
As the CRA goes, then so goes the city he said, as the district does not exist in a bubble unto itself.
At the end of day, if the Zyscovich vision plan does not turn the CRA, and to some extent the city, into a true blue destination, he said there are other accomplishments by which to measure the vision plan’s success.
“If we only make Cape Coral a better place to live, then that’s OK, that’s perfectly fine. But if we can make it more than that, that’s OK, too,” Zyscovich said.