Thursday, October 12, 2006

City Buildings

(Note: This was originally posted on June 25, 2006 and outlined my view of the future use of various City buildings. At the October 17, 2006 City Commission meeting, the City Commission will review, and hopefully approve, the phase II portion of the Song and Associates study and authorize Ardaman and Associates to perform a hazardous materials analysis on the Library, City Hall Annex, existing City Hall and the Suffleboard Court building.)
I know that the City enlisted Song and Associates to do a space utilization study of City buildings, but does anyone know the status of it? I think the first phase has been done for a while. I'll check this week to see what the status is.

City Hall Annex - (on the National Register) When are we getting rid of the utilities drive thru payment window? It is unsightly and creates traffic problems in the downtown during peak times.

- If only for symbolic purposes, the City needs to designate this as an individual landmark on the National Register. It is eligible for a myriad of reasons. It is already considered a contributing structure within the local Old Town Historic District - (This is confusing, and part of why we need to re-examine the make-up of our historic districts, but there is a National and local district version of the Old Town Historic District.). The threshold for the number of contributing structures is higher with the National designation, but really doesn't offer additional protection to structures within it. They are still subject to the regulations contained within our Historic District Ordinance. It is more of a symbolic and honorary title that notes the District is of a higher quality than just a local designation. We really need to re-look at the downtown and see if it can now be, because of age, one National district.

City Hall - Let's gut it. (The symbolism is not lost on me and it would not be lost on others).
Return it to a Municipal Auditorium (see area above eastern/western door). Find a new
location for City Hall farther to west that can adequately house our City staff, perhaps combining it with other functions such as the future transit stop on the FEC rail road, light retail or other complimentary uses. Returning our present City Hall to its original and intended function would give the City a central place to assemble (especially City Commission meetings) that would be under the City's control (not a school auditorium) and also be available for live musical performances, films, etc. If most of the building's activity took place at night, then parking would open up for other uses around the City Hall "block" during the day. It could be a major destination and really affirm the City's commitment to historic preservation. By providing a larger venue for City meetings, we would be true to a policy of open government and encouraging citizen participation. We would also be encouraging our performing arts community through establishment of a performing arts center.

The building/property is also not individually designated - should be, again likely National Register eligible (might help with securing grant monies for remodeling). It is in both the local and the National Old Town Historic Districts.


"Political advertisement paid for and approved by Wes Blackman for Commissioner – District #3"

Sunday, October 8, 2006

Economic Conditions and What Can Be Done

As I go around the City, I am getting a lot of input regarding economic activity in the Downtown area and long Dixie Highway. What I am hearing is not good. Almost universally, retail and restaurant business is off significantly compared to last year. Some long standing businesses go so far as to say it is the worst that they have seen since they have been in Lake Worth. It seems that year-to-year comparison of revenues showed that July, August and September were much lower than previous years.

We talked about possible reasons for the apparent down turn. One of the most common reasons cited was the lingering affect of the hurricanes of '04 (Francis and Jeanne) and '05 Wilma. Because of that many people who usually stayed through the summer (retirees, etc.) didn't this year and chose other locations less prone to storms.

Another reason, again related to the storms, is the supposed permanent evacuation of those people that were fed up with living with the chance of hurricanes here and left for locations such as North Carolina and interior states. The impetus was fairly strong for such a relocation as we experienced a significant run-up in property values and it might have been an opportunity for some to use their equity to "buy more house" in their new location. (Much of the increase in value was evidently caused by speculation and that is currently being wrung out of the system and will continue to seek an equilibrium. Remember, additional supply with no increase on the demand side puts downward pressure on property values.) My own anecdotal experience: I bet that at least 20 people that I know personally took advantage of this to start a new life somewhere else. I do not hesitate to think that factor contributed heavily to the correction we are currently experiencing in the residential real estate market. I believe that this is slowing the net migration of people into Florida. We will have to wait for the statistics to be tallied to be sure.

Other local factors seem to be based on what is perceived as a non-reliable and expensive electric utility in the City of Lake Worth - no news here. Acquaintances that I have in the residential real estate sector say that they see the local markets recovering in neighboring communities, but not so in Lake Worth. Attractive properties in the City of Lake Worth that would have been part of a bidding war just two years ago now sit on the market for sale for far too long - to the exasperation of owners attempting to sell.

I also do not think that we can discount the importance of the political polarization and in-fighting that is reported, generally accurate, in the local press and media. Having the dramas played out over and over again sends a message that the City really doesn't know what it wants to do and would rather fight with itself (wasting resources along the way), than undertake the continual improvement and reinvestment in City facilities. We need to understand that we are in a competitive real estate and commercial/retail marketplace. There are many communities that are all striving for the same investment and retail dollars for which Lake Worth is striving. We need to be more cognizant of that and realize that the instability of the political landscape is a consideration (how much of one can be debated) in those key decisions - from where am I going to live, where am I going to by property, where do I want to raise my family, where I am going out to eat tonight, etc.

So, what can we do to combat the factors working against prosperity in Lake Worth? Here is my list and I encourage you to add your own ideas:
  • If you have a choice where to shop and the goods and services are available within the City of Lake Worth, choose to spend your dollars here over other communities. Supporting local businesses can go a long way to keep dollars within the City.
  • We realize that we only weaken ourselves if we fight from within. There are many forces outside of our City, beyond the economic ones, that impact our quality of life within the City of Lake Worth. We should be actively anticipating these and addressing them to the extent possible. This needs to be done collectively and together as a community.
  • We need to support the re-investment in City facilities - particularly the beach - as a way to prove to the world that we do care about our infrastructure and the quality/affordability of City services. By re-investing in the beach, we improve our flagship property and create the quality destination that it can be - importing wealth from outside the City and having it be chanelled throughout the City's economy. I think we were all surprised by the initial sucess of the Green Market at the beach - look for me there next Saturday, I'll have my camera with me!
Add your own - together we can turn it around.

"Political advertisement paid for and approved by Wes Blackman for Commissioner – District #3"

Importance of the Internet

Look at growth, look at how much time people spend on the Net and look at the variety of things that they are doing. It's all really good, so I am actually encouraged by the fundamentals that underlie usage growth on the Net.

Meg Whitman (founder of eBay)

What's sort of interesting about the whole public relations disaster that is the Net, in some ways, is that the fundamentals are really good.
Meg Whitman

A friend called me up the other day and talked about investing in a dot-com that sells lobsters. Internet lobsters. Where will this end? The next day he sent me a huge package of lobsters on ice. How low can you stoop?
Donald Trump

"Political advertisement paid for and approved by Wes Blackman for Commissioner – District #3"