Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Friday, January 4, 2013
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Church, Douglass Gym, others receive money for improvement projects

A historic church, a dilapidated gym and a project to widen transportation access from Bahama Village to the Truman Waterfront were the top recipients of Key West property taxes reserved to refurbish the neighborhood.

The seven-member volunteer Bahama Village Redevelopment Advisory Committee allotted five minutes for each applicant to present its request at a Thursday night meeting at Old City Hall. Committee members then divvied up grants from this year's pot of $850,000.

Only one proposal, from a homeowner wanting to repair her duplex, received the cold shoulder.

The remaining six applicants received grants, although each allocation was less than asked for.

Nothing is permanent until the City Commission, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, votes on Jan. 23, but the commissioners historically tend to stick to their committee members' recommendations for this funding.

The neighborhoods of Bahama Village and what is referred to as the Caroline Street Corridor benefit from Tax Increment Financing (TIF) money -- property taxes collected in Bahama Village that stay in the Old Town neighborhood for improvements.

Among the presentations, the most emotional came from the supporters of the Cornish Memorial AME Zion Church, which applied for $237,152 for major repairs. The church received $417,000 in 2009 from the committee.

"If we don't get some funding, this could be our last hurrah," said Roosevelt C. Sands Jr., who spoke on behalf of his church. "I was born in Bahama Village, raised there, graduated from high school there and worshipped at Cornish for most of my entire life of 80-plus years."

The church is among the most significant pieces of history in Key West, said Sands, and it has also been used as a hurricane shelter.

Only one person, homeowner Albert Lojko, spoke against property tax dollars going to a church that he doesn't attend, though he complimented the ministers.

"I go to a different church," said Lojko. "My religion takes care of that one."

Also Thursday, the plight of the 1957-era Frederick Douglass Gym, 111 Olivia St., was aired by the city Senior Project Engineer Doug Bradshaw.

"There's the gym and then there's the side structure," said Bradshaw. "Through the years, there have been significant alterations to that structure. If you look, you'll see complete structural walls have been removed over the years. Most of this was hidden by the drop ceiling."

That ceiling, over the side structure's office, began falling down last year. Only the gym and its stage are open these days.

City commissioners last month approved Commissioner Clayton Lopez's request to reserve $1 million of the profits from the city's planned sale of the Pier House property for fixing the gym.

"With chunks of concrete falling, we're talking about the safety of our kids and we can't shortchange that project," said committee Chairwoman Carmen Turner, the former city commissioner whose district included Bahama Village.

"It needs every dollar," said Turner. "They've already done similar work for" Glynn Archer Elementary School.

But committee member Marci Rose questioned why the gym needed TIF money, given the fact that the city has already promised $1 million.

"It can be $200 million dollars when it comes to the safety of a child," Turner said softly in response.

Instead of its original $190,000 TIF request for the gym, the city received $160,000.

The city's proposal to redevelop streets to offer better access for pedestrians, bicyclists and cars to and from the first few blocks of Petronia Street, received $290,000; while the Cornish Memorial AME Zion Church received $205,000 for structural and interior repairs of the main church and parsonage that dates back to 1864.

The city's Frederick Douglass Gym, where connected offices, bathrooms and a kitchen have been closed off due to dangerous conditions, received $160,000 to conduct a detailed assessment study of its condition.

Habitat for Humanity in the Florida Keys received $72,000 to help repair and paint the homes of low-income senior citizens who live in Bahama Village. The Coral City Elks Lodge 610 was granted $55,000 for renovations of its building on Whitehead Street.

Finally, after the rankings and allocations of money, the committee agreed to give $20,000 to help the city begin building a community garden in Bahama Village. The project received no votes in the initial rankings, but Rose made a motion to award the $20,000 that passed unanimously.

The list of grants leaves $28,000, which will be added onto next year's TIF fund.

The sole applicant to receive not one vote nor a penny Thursday was a Bahama Village property owner on Geraldine Street who sought $10,500 to help fix up her home and the street.

Nancy Moulton, who bought her duplex in August, said she has already spent $13,300 on her duplex and that her project would help reverse the neighborhood's blight.

"I have an issue with funding the rehabilitation of a private home for a particular individual," said Turner.

All seven members of the volunteer committee, each appointed by a city commissioner, attended Thursday's meeting. Scheduled meetings for Dec. 6 and Oct. 4 were canceled because no members showed up, according to the minutes.

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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