|Posted by Anne Siren on January 2, 2013 at 2:40 PM|
By Michael d’Oliveira
Wilton Manors – Officials here spent much of 2012 focused on improving the city’s economic situation for 2013, 2014 and beyond.
In a series of moves that included buying land for more parking along Wilton Drive, the creation of an economic development coordinator position and a bid to develop the Hagen Park/City Hall parking lot, officials have planted a lot of seeds they hope will bear economic fruit well after this year ends.
“We’ve started some things and planned some things but there’s still a lot that has to be done,” said Commissioner Tom Green.
“Giving all credit where credit is due, I think it was very difficult [for the city to get economic development going in previous years] because of the economy,” said Krishan Manners, president/CEO of the Wilton Manors Development Alliance [WMDA].
One of the first moves was the addition of Randy Welker, economic development coordinator. The city has also decided to hire an outside firm to market its parks and recreation facilities and attract more attention to events like the annual Stonewall street festival, which brings tens of thousands of visitors to the city each June.
“I think they’ve made a good start this year, especially hiring Randy. I’m already working with him on a few things,” said Manners. One project Manners and Welker are working on is wooing a major new employer into the city. Manners declined to say which company is interested but he estimates that it could mean at least 40 high-paying jobs.
And helping to fund Welker’s job and the marketing position, or at least make it easier to fund them, was an increase in the city’s taxable values.
The 3.63 percent jump in values led to an additional $140,000 in revenue. And after four years of decline, Mayor Gary Resnick called the increase a “marked turn-around.”
“It’s all general fund money but lets just say it adds to the stability of the city with planning and moving forward with some projects. It’s always better than having to cut,” he said.
“I fully expect 2013 to be a good year,” said Manners.
And that could mean a good year in 2014 if the residential development, proposed for the Hagen Park/City Hall site, is good for the city and commissioners vote in favor of it.
Earlier this month, the city’s request for bids to develop its four-acre Hagen Park/City Hall parking lot drew one interested party, IBI Group, a Pompano Beach architecture and engineering firm. Although officials were hoping for a hotel, IBI has proposed a mixed-use residential and commercial development.
If approved, it could be finished by the end of 2014 and have a positive impact on Wilton Drive’s merchants by placing possibly hundreds of new customers within walking distance of their businesses.
Other developers say they intend to develop the Center for Spiritual Living site at 1550 NE 26 St. and the former trailer park property on Northeast 24 Street.
But although Wilton Drive has received much of the city’s attention, officials say they’re still working on the city’s other major commercial corridors, including Dixie Highway, which recently received a $1 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation for sidewalk, lighting and landscaping improvements.
Resnick told The Pelican he also wants to focus on some of the city’s western neighborhoods, improve Mickel Field and get a stalled apartment building project on Powerline Road finished and filled with tenants. The building, owned by the county, is supposed to become a low-income housing development but city officials are frustrated over the county’s lack of progress.
To help, Resnick said he will be giving tours of the city to newly elected Congresswoman Lois Frankel and State Senator Maria Sachs. “Hopefully they’ll be in positions to help,” he said.
Officially, the city has begun work on creating business improvement districts [BID] along Wilton Drive and Andrews Avenue. A BID, if approved by property owners, would allow the city to levy additional taxes on those property owners. Right now, officials see a BID as a way to make sidewalk and lighting improvements to Andrews and a way to fund the city’s possible takeover of Wilton Drive in order to turn it into a two-lane street similar to Las Olas Boulevard.
With only two lanes, instead of four, being used by motorists, proponents of the takeover say a lot more parking spaces could be added along the street.
But, with a takeover far from certain, this year commissioners voted to buy two properties on Northeast 8 Terrace to provide more parking on the north end of Wilton Drive. They purchased the land using part of the $1.1 million the city borrowed to specifically create more parking. The total cost of buying the properties and paving them is $650,000.
Those properties, and a deal to use a third adjacent lot owned by Kids In Distress,
Will allow the city to create a new parking lot with about 40 spaces; the exact number won’t be known until January.
Newton said the lots should help alleviate some of the parking problems on that part of Wilton Drive.
The other business-related problem on Wilton Drive is a shortage of diversity – too many bars and restaurants, say officials, and not enough businesses selling retail items like clothing and shoes.
To gives retail businesses more of an incentive, the city reduced its parking requirements for new and existing retail shops along Wilton Drive.
If that does the trick remains to be seen. But with property values up, developers showing interest in the city and most of the businesses still in business at the end of another year, “We’re struggling . . . but I’d say we’re still holding our own,” said Commissioner Ted Galatis.