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CRA Board OKs streetscape project, other items

By Staff | Apr 26, 2016

Though discussions became testy at times, the Cape Coral Community Redevelopment Agency Board of Commissioners approved all three of the major items on Tuesday’s meeting agenda.

The much discussed streetscape project for Southeast 47th Terrace, estimated to cost up to $8 million, was passed by commissioners unanimously despite several on the board disagreeing on the project details and the funding.

Executive Director John Szerlag was asking the board for approval of the design and construction of the improvements to sidewalks, curbing, utilities, landscaping and street calming bulb-outs targeted for Southeast 47th Terrace between Coronado Parkway and Del Prado Boulevard. The city recently completed a portion of Southeast 47th located behind Nevermind Awesome Bar & Grill as part of improvements made to a city parking lot.

“I don’t see a downside to this,” said Szerlag. “I’m asking to allocate the current CRA fund balance of $1.7 million to the project. When we get this done, the return on investment will be there because businesses will respond.”

Szerlag offered three financial options, but none of those were singled out by the members as a preferred method. Option A provides funding by way of a special assessment to property owners in the area. Option B is to acquire a bank loan in order to get the project done more quickly. Option C is to complete small portions of the project and apply TIF revenues from fiscal years 2016 and 2017, but that comes with higher costs as material and labor increases.

Commissioner Rick Williams suggested completing the project in sections rather than the full length of Southeast 47th Terrace.

“I think we need a workshop to discuss this and get input from the local businesses,” said Williams.

“I don’t like taking all of the CRA balance for the project, but I agree with Commissioner Williams about doing the project in sections,” added Commissioner Marilyn Stout.

“I think the better option is to make the area safer, not just prettier,” offered Commissioner Rana Erbrick. “Close the street off and give police the ability to contain the crowd better. You wouldn’t have to worry about crossing the street or parked cars.”

The idea everyone could agree on was to approve it and send it to City Council for more discussion in a workshop session.

Board members approved Szerlag’s request to send a Request For Proposal to consultants for a feasibility study to determine whether the CRA could best move forward with a full-time executive director, part-time executive director or be managed by an outside firm with expertise in the field. The board voted 5-3 to send the request to City Council after disagreeing on several details.

“The feasibility study would come back to the CRA for recommendations,” said Szerlag.

“I think it is wise to get a fresh set of eyes on this,” said CRA Chair Jim Burch.

“I think it’s time to hire a new executive director,” said Erbrick.

Commissioners even disagreed on the grant amounts the CRA Advisory Board recommended for 13 annual special events held in the South Cape. Erbrick wanted to double the amount awarded the Chamber of Commerce of Cape Coral to $5,000 for its Holiday Festival of Lights event. No other amounts were changed from the advisory board’s recommendation.

“I won’t support this again because I don’t think government should give cash to organizations,” said Commissioner Richard Leon. “Ask me for cops and services instead of cash.”

Williams and Sawicki questioned why CRA was giving money to the Parks & Recreation Department for five different events.

“Parks & Rec has its own budget, right?” said Williams. “Why do they need CRA money?”

Special events coordinator Todd King tried to explain, “Bike night can be held anywhere, but we want to keep it in South Cape for the bounceback for area businesses. These events are fixtures downtown. The grant money shows the businesses and the CRA that we want to continue to operate downtown.”

By a 6-2 vote, with Leon and Sawicki dissenting, the board approved the request for a total of $39,000 to be distributed in Fiscal Year 2017.

In the board’s final action, Regan St. Peter was appointed to the vacant advisory board seat created by the resignation of former chair Ed Ramos.

The next CRA Board meeting is June 14.