Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Friday, April 5, 2013
TIF panel won't change grant list

The committee that recommends the spending of the Bahama Village Tax Increment Financing (TIF) dollars Thursday refused to recalculate its original awarding of $802,000 to neighborhood projects in order to bail out a city park renovation gone awry.

But after an hour of discussion at Old City Hall, the committee decided to scratch off its grant list two city projects that add up to $450,000 of the available $850,000 TIF money for fiscal year 2013.

In the 4-2 vote, the committee also recommended the City Commission put that $450,000 toward renovation of the Nelson English and Willie Ward Parks.

City commissioners, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Committee, are set to review the recommendations at the 6 p.m. May 7 meeting at Old City Hall, 510 Greene St.

"We are only making recommendations," said Chairwoman Carmen Turner. "They will make the final decisions."

Several members, however, were concerned about the procedure at hand.

"There was a deadline," said the Rev. Randy Becker, who voted no to any changes, along with member Marci Rose. "If we say that certain entities have the right to have a different deadline, then there is something wrong."

Voting in favor of freeing up the $450,000 were Turner, Vice Chairman Aaron Castillo, Patricia Eables and Annette Mobley.

Jerry Curtis was absent.

Thursday's meeting came in response to city staff's recent request for the committee to backtrack on the grant awarding it hashed out three months ago in order to help save its plan to renovate the Bahama Village city parks before the bid deadline runs out in June.

The architectural firm hired to renovate the parks was $818,000 off on its estimate, according to city planners, who applied to the Bahama Village Redevelopment Advisory Committee after it had already made its list of recommendations.

In a memo to the city manager's office, planner Nicole Malo suggested that the committee find the $818,000 needed for the estimated $1.2 million park repair by taking away six-figure awards to the Petronia "connectivity" streetscape plan, a structural analysis of the Frederick Douglass Gym and a 2011 grant to the American Legion Post 163 that hasn't yet been touched.

Also, Malo suggested reducing the Cornish AME Zion Church award by $3,000 to $58,000.

Representatives from the Legion and the church appeared Thursday night to tell the committee it was patently unfair to take away the recommended awards.

About 20 people turned out for the meeting, with several speakers asking why city staff is looking for TIF money to fix Bahama Village parks.

"I think it needs to be found within the city's budget somewhere," said resident Mona Clark, a retired educator. "There should always be something there in the budget to maintain all the city parks."

TIF money comes from property taxes collected in a certain neighborhood and reserved for projects in the same district.

Key West has TIF money reserved for Bahama Village, and also for the Caroline Street Corridor.

"This is the city of Key West; we are all a part of Key West," said Millicent Weech. "If we can just get away from that stigma of alienating one section and include the whole community and the whole island as one, which it is, it would be a better community and a better city."

Several board members bristled at the idea of reopening the process and taking away money from the Cornish Memorial AME Zion Church, which expects $205,000 from the 2013 TIF money, and the $310,000 TIF grant the city already approved for the American Legion.

"I just think it's a slap in their faces," said Castillo. "Bahama Village always get the short end. I'm not going to sit up here on this board and say we can take less and less."

At Castillo's request, City Commissioner Clayton Lopez on Thursday agreed to ask the full commission to provide at least a half-million to the park project, the same way the panel pledged $1 million from a recent downtown property sale to repair the Douglass Gym.

Rose said the city's request to recalculate the money felt like the rug being pulled out from under the committee.

"We all dedicate our time to be here and make these recommendations to the city," said Rose, before making a motion that the committee change nothing from the list it approved in January. "I would hope that they would be followed."

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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