December 18, 2014

Economic Development: Reinventing Palatka- Northeast- June 2003

Bob Snell | 6/1/2003
The mural that adorns the outside of Cathy Nagengast's office paints an idealized vision of what downtown Palatka used to be -- a clean, bustling river town that once surpassed Jacksonville in population and economic importance.

But that was long ago. The intervening decades -- particularly the last three -- haven't been kind to the Putnam County seat. Today, Palatka's central business district is a mishmash of mom and pops, government offices and vacant and, in many cases, dilapidated storefronts.

Nagengast and a coalition of business and political leaders are vowing to change things. Nagengast heads Main Street Palatka, a nonprofit group creating a new vision for the city's center, one that promises to capitalize on what has long been Palatka's greatest asset -- its location at the intersection of busy U.S. 17 and the St. Johns River.

This isn't the first time Palatka has tried to reinvent itself. The "original" Main Street Palatka was formed in 1989 as part of a federal and state project aimed at revitalizing downtowns. The effort, however, lacked leadership and eventually fell dormant.

Frustrated by the lack of progress, city leaders decided to revisit the initiative, which has been successful in dozens of cities nationally. Last year, Main Street Palatka was relaunched, and Nagengast, a Palatka native who spent most of her adult life in California, was hired to make it work.

According to Nagengast, the first step to turning around a struggling commercial district is getting key players -- merchants, politicians, building owners -- on board. Next, civic leaders have to identify the city's strengths and find ways to capitalize on them.

The second part is a no-brainer. The city's historic riverfront has the makings of an attractive tourist destination and, in fact, two dozen weekend festivals bring thousands of day-trippers to town each year. But few spend the night or much money outside the festival grounds.

City leaders hope a recently created riverfront zoning district will change that by encouraging development of a retail/entertainment complex along the St. Johns. One group has already raised $300,000 to buy and operate a riverboat that will double as a museum and party boat.

If the riverfront can become more of a "happening," Nagengast says, its success should radiate throughout the rest of the Main Street district. "This is an incremental process, and we are just now taking baby steps," Nagengast says. "In 10 years or so, I think downtown Palatka will have a whole new image."

IN THE NEWS

Amelia Island -- Nassau County acquired Amelia Island Utilities for $17.5 million, besting the city of Fernandina Beach in a fight for control of the company that provides water and sewer service to 6,100 customers on the south end of the island.

Callahan -- Voters have forced longtime Councilman Jack Sikes from office, replacing him with the man who led the effort to recall Sikes. Sikes got in trouble last year when it was discovered he had not paid to connect his house to the town's water and sewer system.

Fernandina Beach -- City commissioners voted to grant Davis Heritage, a Newberry-based developer, $40,000 to help defray the cost of building 85 units of affordable housing near Amelia Park. The money makes the company eligible for tax credits from the Florida Housing Finance Corp.

A south Florida group announced plans to buy radio station WGSR (1570 AM) and change its programming from gospel music to sports talk.

Gainesville -- University of Florida researchers will use a $250,000 grant from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research to study whether supplemental testosterone alleviates some Parkinson's symptoms in men with low levels of the hormone.

Auditors say cable-TV giant Cox Communications owes the city and Alachua County some $778,000 in unpaid franchise fees dating to 1997. Officials are negotiating a renewal of Cox's 10-year contract, which expires in September.

Jacksonville -- Baptist Health paid $9.5 million for 32 acres in Flagler Center, site of its planned Southside hospital. The 250,000-sq.-ft. facility is scheduled to open in the summer of 2004.

Mayo Clinic unveiled plans for its new $207-million hospital that will be built on the clinic's San Pablo Road campus. The 214-bed facility is set to open in early 2007 and will replace Mayo's current admitting hospital, St. Luke's.

John Rutherford is Jacksonville's new sheriff. The 28-year department veteran and former director of corrections defeated two challengers in the race to succeed Nat Glover.

Owners of Florida Coastal School of Law signed a letter of intent to sell the for-profit school to Baltimore-based Sterling Capital Partners, which owns Sylvan Learning Centers. Florida Coastal opened in 1996 as the city's only law school.

Developers who want to build a downtown Marriott hotel have sued the city and Mayor John Delaney, claiming the mayor scuttled their plans when he negotiated to bring the 966-room Adam's Mark hotel to town in 1998.

Lake Butler -- A newspaper publisher and insurance agent purchased city hall for $105,000, $25,000 less than city commissioners were seeking. The building will become home to the Union County Times and Roberts Insurance next year, after a new city hall is complete.

Lake City -- Lake City Medical Center plans to open a cardiovascular center this summer. The $2.8-million facility, operated in partnership with Interventional Cardiologists of Gainesville, will include physician offices, diagnostic facilities and an outpatient diagnostic cardiac catheterization lab.

Palatka -- PDM Bridge, a maker of steel components, won a $39-million contract to build the drawbridge section of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge over the Potomac River between Virginia and Maryland.

St. Johns County -- Joseph Joyner, a former Orange County School District administrator, is the new St. Johns County superintendent of schools. Joyner replaces retiring Superintendent Hugh Balboni.

County commissioners cleared the way for two new subdivisions, Durbin Crossing and Aberdeen, in the booming northwest. In exchange for permission to build 4,518 homes and apartments, SouthStar Development Partners promised to build a school, 10 ball fields and two community centers, and donate 50 acres of parkland to the county.

Tourism
IN SEARCH OF A BIGGER CENTER

JACKSONVILLE -- Tourism officials insist the city needs to build a new convention facility or expand the Prime Osborn Convention Center, one of the nation's smallest. The Jacksonville & the Beaches Visitor and Convention Bureau is taking its case to local business and civic groups to build support for a project that has languished for years.

Tags: Northeast

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