Late last year, County Commissioner Pat Glass decided to take on the problem. She has brought together farm owners, farmworker advocates, policy-makers, builders and developers to talk about solutions.
The effort has not been popular among some of Glass' constituents and fellow commissioners. Glass sees humanitarian reasons to provide better housing but tells her critics the most important reasons are economic: Blighted apartments and duplexes bring down property values.
Glass envisions building low-cost housing throughout the county, mostly near city centers where farmworkers would have access to amenities. But where and what kind of housing is needed is widely debated. For example, workers with families have different needs from seasonal or unaccompanied workers.
Steve Kirk, executive director of the Everglades Community Association in Homestead, who built and manages the Everglades Farmworker Villages, the largest farm labor housing project in the U.S., says Glass will need two things to succeed: Money from the county to help finance construction of better housing and zoning law changes so growers can build more housing on their properties. Present zoning laws prevent farm owners from building more than one home per acre.
Glass says the county's housing authority has applied for a Housing and Urban Development grant to build 40 units -- the county is searching for a site -- and will match that grant with $400,000. The county commission has talked about rewriting the zoning codes, but there's no proposed ordinance, and Glass says convincing commissioners will take time.
Kirk says he won't get involved in Manatee until the county steps up to the plate. Meanwhile, he's working on two projects in Hillsborough County, where there is more support to improve housing for farmworkers. "I'm going to develop where I have financing help from local officials," he says.
Glass will have to wait until the fall to find out if the HUD grant comes through. She and U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris, a Republican representing Manatee, met with HUD Secretary Mel Martinez to ask for assistance. If the grant falls through, Glass will wait until next spring, when HUD accepts applications again. Whatever the result, Glass says she won't give up. "Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in Manatee. How do you sweep that away?"
IN THE NEWS
Clearwater -- Market Street Mortgage has acquired Houston-based Memorial Park Mortgage, which has offices throughout Texas. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Collier County -- March Performance, an automotive parts manufacturer, plans to move its headquarters from Michigan to Collier County if it can secure more than $200,000 in grants offered through the Collier County Economic Development Council. The state still has to approve a grant from the Economic Development Transportation Fund. The move would create 40 jobs.
Fort Myers -- Bonita Springs-based Bonita Bay Group's Verandah community in Fort Myers is the first in the state to be certified as a "green development" by the Florida Green Building Coalition. Certification requires developments to protect ecosystems, conserve natural resources, use environmentally friendly utilities and amenities and to promote green living practices.
Gulfport -- U.S. News & World Report has ranked Stetson University College of Law tops in the nation in trial advocacy training for the sixth time since 1995.
Hernando County -- Grubbs Construction has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company, which listed debts of more than $10 million, closed its asphalt plant in Brooksville and moved operations to Hudson.
Manatee -- The Regal Empress cruise ship, which operated out of Port Manatee, was sold for $1.75 million at auction following its seizure by U.S. Marshals because the ship's owner owed $750,000 to an engine repair company. The 50-year-old ship's new owners, Pompano Beach-based Imperial Majesty Cruise Line, will operate the ship out of Port Everglades.
New Port Richey -- Empire Distilleries will open this summer in a $1-million, 29,000-sq.-ft. building that used to be a used-car lot. The distillery and winery will initially create 10 jobs.
Pinellas Park -- Boulder Venture South, a Belleair Shore developer, has bought the struggling ParkSide Mall for $12 million. Boulder executives aren't disclosing what changes, if any, will be made to the mall.
Saratoga -- Germantown, Md.-based Acterna Corp., which recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, is moving its Manatee County operation to Sarasota County. The owner of the Manatee office space is suing the communications software manufacturer for missing more than $100,000 in rent.
Despite criticism that Sarasota County's 2050 growth plan will create sprawl, the Congress for the New Urbanism, a national group of more than 2,300 architects, developers and planners, has picked 2050 as one of the top 15 development plans in the nation out of 169 reviewed. The San Francisco-based group advocates walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods with pedestrian-friendly buildings.
St. Petersburg -- St. Anthony's Health Care in St. Petersburg is planning a $30-million renovation, including new units for cardiac critical care and women's health, an upgraded oncology department and an expanded emergency room. The renovations are being funded in part by BayCare, a consortium of healthcare organizations, which includes St. Anthony's.
Tampa -- Verizon has given the 77-year-old Tampa Theatre a $10,000 grant to help computerize ticketing and membership program operations.
Reptron Electronics, an electronics manufacturer in Tampa, sold its distribution business for $10.4 million to rival Jaco Electronics of Hauppauge, N.Y. Reptron's distribution business accounted for 34% of company sales and about 95% of total operating losses last year.
Tampa ranks second in the nation in internet broadband use. In an Opinion Research Corp. poll for America Online, Tampa was ranked behind San Francisco. Fifty-six percent of adult internet users in Tampa, which beat out Boston, Houston and Charlotte, N.C., are connected by broadband.
Owners of WestShore Plaza in Tampa have hired Morgan Stanley to market the mall to prospective buyers. Grosvenor International, a British investment company that owns the mall, says it has not decided to sell but wants to test the market to see how much it can fetch. The asking price: $150 million.
Carnival Cruise Lines plans to base a new ship -- Carnival Miracle -- at the Port of Tampa starting in November 2004. The ship will hold 2,124 passengers, with 80% of its cabins boasting water views. The Miracle will travel to Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, Cozumel and Belize.
ON LOCATION IN TAMPA
TAMPA BAY -- Actor John Travolta, a frequent visitor to the Tampa Bay area because of his involvement with the Church of Scientology in Clearwater, will co-star in the Marvel Comics superhero movie The Punisher. Filming starts this month in Tampa and continues through the summer.