September 22, 2014

Revitalization: Renaissance Northwest- March 2003

Joan Hughes | 3/1/2003
Ten years ago, Gov. Lawton Chiles asked Tallahassee City Commissioner Steve Meisburg to take part in the Urban Partnership Initiative, a study of neighborhood revitalization efforts. Meisburg's team concluded that most existing programs were ineffective, and designed a "holistic" model that emphasized the leadership of community residents and the collaboration of government, education, faith-based and business entities.

Meisburg wrote a Department of Community Affairs-published manual on the model and initiated Tallahassee's Community Neighborhood Renaissance Partnership in 1999, enlisting the support of 11 organizations that agreed to contribute $10,000 a year for five years to the effort.

For the model's first test, Meisburg chose Apalachee Ridge Estates, a south Tallahassee neighborhood of 779 residents, where a grass-roots improvement effort was already forming.

In 2001, residents and partners met as often as 10 times a month, developing a plan based on the community's needs. Implementation began last year with traffic safety, stormwater drainage and beautification projects.

The effort's showpiece, however, has been the Apalachee Ridge Learning and Technology Center. The partnership renovated a vacant neighborhood house and outfitted it with $140,000 in state-of-the-art equipment donated by companies such as Comcast and Sun Microsystems.

Students at 25 computer workstations can access the internet and local school networks over high-speed broadband cable, and in-house servers support Pearson Education software, which area schools use.

Volunteers from FSU and FAMU staff the center, which opened in September, tutoring children and adults in everything from math to home business software. The FSU College of Medicine and School of Nursing provide healthcare workshops.

In the fall, the center served roughly 60 residents, mostly children, each week. With over 250 children in the neighborhood, there's room to grow, but Elton E. Thomas, Apalachee Ridge Estates Neighborhood Association treasurer, says residents' interest -- and trust -- is increasing, primarily because the partnership has kept its promise of neighborhood involvement. "They're not just dropping money on us and walking away, and they've allowed us to maintain control of the program. That's enthused us all."

IN THE NEWS

Destin -- Memphis-based ResortQuest International (NYSE- RZT), the largest U.S. manager of independently owned vacation rentals, with 20,000 properties nationwide generating $421 million in 2002, plans to consolidate its accounting operations, reservations and corporate headquarters in Destin. The company, which has 6,000 Florida properties and employs 1,200 in Destin, estimates it will add 300 to 400 jobs over three years.

Escambia county -- Addressing a statewide teacher shortage, the school board has approved a plan for a teachers academy at Woodham High School, a magnet program with Pensacola Junior College that will let students pursue an associate's degree in education while in high school. Students could then earn a bachelor's within two years of high school graduation.

Fort Walton Beach -- Sprint will close its Fort Walton Beach call center this month, laying off 91 of 200 area workers.

Freeport -- A private developer has purchased 3,100 acres, with plans to develop a golf course community and ask the city to annex it, which would increase the city's size by 50%.

Gulf Breeze -- A $22-million, 89,100-sq.-ft. expansion, the first in its 17-year history, is under way at Gulf Breeze Hospital.

Gulf/Bay County -- St. Joe Co. (NYSE-JOE), state and federal agencies, and a Texas oil and gas company have signed a memorandum of understanding assigning protection to 1,400 acres of long-leaf pine forest and the declining red-cockaded woodpecker population.

Marianna -- Reston, Va.-based Sallie Mae Servicing Corp. has purchased the city's vacant 93,600-sq.-ft. Wal-Mart building for $1.55 million. It plans to renovate the building as its first ever "disaster recovery hot site" designed to provide backup facilities for its 7,000 U.S. employees.

Milton -- Eastern Sheet Metal has backed out of its agreement to buy the city's Vanity Fair building after Dothan, Ala., officials offered the company a 145,000-sq.-ft. building rent-free.

Mossy Head -- Proposed construction of a 1,200-acre golf course housing development and the Mossy Head Industrial Park prompted the nonprofit Mossy Head Waterworks Inc. to obtain $2.4 million in USDA rural development loans/grants for water system expansion.

Niceville -- Okaloosa-Walton Community College's new Visual Arts building at The Arts Center will be completed this spring.

Panama City Beach -- St. Joe Commercial has sold the 67,414-sq.-ft. Nextel customer service facility in the Beckrich Office Complex for $8.1 million to Vorbeck Equities of Ellenton. Nextel plans to add 300 jobs.

Panhandle -- Navy and Marine Corps training formerly conducted on Vieques will be transferred in part to area bases, including Eglin AFB, Tyndall AFB and Pensacola Naval Air Station. The moves will not significantly increase the number of troops permanently stationed in the Panhandle.

Pensacola -- Navy Federal Credit Union will build a $16-million, 55,000-sq.-ft. call center and branch office on a 19-acre site in the planned 67-acre Bell-Heritage Oaks Commerce Park. The first major facility outside NFCU's Vienna, Va., headquarters will open in December with 55 employees, with plans to expand to 500 by 2008.

In partnership with Sacred Heart Health Systems, nonprofit Birmingham, Ala.-based Methodist Homes for the Aging will begin construction this spring on Wesley Haven Villa, a $7-million, 55-unit assisted-living home that will employ around 30.

Port St. Joe -- Lured by St. Joe Co. developments, a deep port, rail service and quality of life, Decorative Flooring, a nationally renowned hardwood floor company, has relocated from Marietta, Ga., to downtown Port St. Joe.

Tallahassee -- The city has purchased the downtown "digital canopy" ["Digital Canopy," July 2002, FloridaTrend.com] from Mainline Information Systems and NCGi and expanded the free internet service to the airport terminal.

The Frances Meginniss Booth Trust is making the first major private construction investment in Tallahassee's newly created enterprise zone, a $14.5-million, 130,000-sq.-ft. housing complex near Florida A&M University with capacity for 300 to 400 students.

With 80% of space already leased, Summit East Management has begun construction on Hillside, a $6-million, 60,000-sq.-ft. addition to the 117-acre Summit East Technology and Research Park.

Economic Development
SWEET HOME ALABAMA

NORTHWEST FLORIDA -- Neal Wade, St. Joe's vice president of economic development and craftsman of the 16-county Florida's Great Northwest organization ["Encore," July 2000, FloridaTrend.com], has left the company to serve as director of the Alabama Development Office under newly elected Gov. Bob Riley.

Tags: Northwest

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