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CRA ‘grants’ facade funds to Sweetbay plaza

By Staff | Dec 16, 2010

When Publix vacated the Shops of Cape Coral Gulf Plaza, downtown lost not only one of its most needed tenants, but the future of the plaza itself was up in the air.
Now just over a year later, Sweetbay Supermarket has filled the void left by Publix, and the plaza has been reinvented through the help of the Community Redevelopment Agency’s facade grant program.
The CRA and Fort Myers-based Private Equity Group teamed up to rehabilitate the plaza, which also houses Ace Hardware and West Marine.
The CRA presented Private Equity Group with two facade grants on Thursday. Totaling $150,00, the grants helped to cover the rehabilitations of the Gulf Plaza, and the nearby Shops of Cape Coral Milton Street.
According to CRA Chairman Don Heisler, the rehabilitation of Gulf Plaza and the association of realtors building are two of the best examples of facade grant monies at work.
“They represent two of the best examples of the CRA using tax money to revitalize structures in the district,” Heisler said. “It’s a home run.”
The CRA board voted to shelve its facade grant program this week, deciding instead to try and redirect as much of its budget toward components of the new Vision Plan.
Facade grants will still be available next year, Heisler said, but the details are up in the air. As it stands now, the CRA matches 50 percent of the rehabilitation. Heisler said that figure could be reduced to 25 percent, for instance, but added that details are still up in the air.
“It doesn’t mean people are out of luck,” Heisler said of the facade grants. “Those with a need and a purpose will continue to be served.”
Private Equity Group Chief Operating Officer Howard Baum said when they bought the plaza their intent was to rehabilitate it, even though Publix was on its way out.
When approached by Sweetbay, Baum said it made sense to quickly rehabilitate the plaza, especially with the help of the CRA.
“Residents are able to see their tax dollars at work here,” Baum added.
Board member Frank Dethlefsen said the CRA’s sole mission to make the city’s downtown a better place to live, work and play.
“This is what the CRA does, which is be stewards of the area,” Dethlefsen said.