Immokalee Today Florida's 21st Century

Immokalee Walmart up for discussion again Nov. 19

Not that it will be controversial but the proposed Walmart planned for Immokalee will be back up for public discussion Nov. 19. 

The Immokalee Community Redevelopment Agency's (CRA) citizens advisory committee is set to hear updates on plans for the store, which the Barron Collier Companies announced last spring could open as early as autumn 2015. 

The CRA citizens committee meets in its regular monthly session at 8:30 a.m. Nov. 19 at CareerSource Southwest Florida ((formerly known as Southwest Florida Works but known to most Immokaleans as the "One-Stop Shop), 750 South Fifth Street. 

All meetings of the CRA citizens committee are open to the public. 

The proposed store will be a 150,000-square-foot SuperCenter with full service grocery and pharmacy.

Nothing in the current plan suggests gasoline service will be available at the site, to be built on 25 acres at the northwest corner of Westclox Drive and State Road 29 across from the Isabel Collier Reid Medical Center campus.

Walmart officials said the store will bring to Immokalee between 300 and 350 new jobs, part-time and full time and pay an average of $12.99 per hour. They also said benefits will be included in the pay package for both part-time and full time employees. They did not spell out the benefits package.

Construction is expected to take 12 months once ground is broken.  Although no formal polling as taken place, the overwhelming sentiment of Immokaleans who have expressed opinions enthusiastically support the Superstore's construction. 

Collier Schools' Virtual Town Hall in Immokalee Nov. 13

Immokaleans will have the chance Nov. 13 to join other Collier County residents in a Virtual Town Hall meeting about and with Collier County Public Schools. 

The focus of the county-wide tele-session will be early childhood education, specifically PreK through Third Grade, with the live discussion originating at the Martin Luther King Administrative Center in Naples and remote locations joining from Immokalee's iTech Center and the Everglades City School. 

The town hall will take place from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday and questions can be submitted in advance here

Collier Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Kamela Patton, will lead the Town Hall. She will be joined by a panel of early education experts and community leaders including Immokalee's own Linda Salazar, principal of Eden Park Elementary

Other panelists will include: 

 

Questions will be asked from all three Town Hall locations and vistors to the MLK Administrative Center and Immokalee iTech Center will also have access to a vendor exhibit prior to the meeting. 

  

Open Streets - Ciclovia - coming to Immokalee!

Imagine a community event drawing hundreds of families to walk, run, bike and be active right in the open streets of Immokalee - Ciclovia! 

The Immokalee CRA is part of a wide coalition of organizations - led by the Safe & Healthly Children's Coalition of Collier County - to bring such an event to Immokalee beginning in February and each first Saturday of the months through November. 

The Safe & Healthy Children's Coaltion has partnered in the effort with the Florida State University College of Medicine and the University of Florida Family Nutrition Program, both of which have a presence in Immokalee. 

"We have met twice with many community agencies and everyone is very excited to bring this wonderful initiative to Immokalee," said Safe & Health Children's Coalition Executive Director Paula DiGrigoli. "We can all picture this being successful in Immokalee." 

If permits are granted and the planning goes smoothly, Ciclovia would be centered around the Immokalee Sports Complex and the Collier County iTech Center, creating a open and public pavilion for families to enjoy the great outdoors and engage in healthy, active movement. 

The broad coalition of planning groups and agencines includes Collier County Parks and Recreation Department, Immokalee Chamber of Commerce, Collier County Sheriff’s Office,  Immokalee Housing and Family Services, Department of Health in Naples, , Healthcare Network of SW Florida, Immokalee Foundation, Family Literacy Academy of Immokalee, along with the CRA. 

The next planning meeting is set for November 3 at noon at the CareerSource of SW Florida, 750 South 5th St. Immokalee. 

Ciclovia (also referred to as Open Streets) is based on the Spanish word for "cycle path" and became a weekly tradition in Bogotá, Colombia, where it began. Bogota temporarily closes major city streets to car traffic and converts them into safe and open, car-free environments for families to run, bike, play and be well together. The events are part of a global movement for open activities areas in major cities organized by the Open Streets Project

The Ciclovia has become a worldwide phenomenon reaching Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Israel, India and dozens of cities across the United States. Ciclovia is a celebration of physical activity, healthy movement, and active transportation.

Tampa recently held its first Ciclovia event and one is planned for November 10 in Fort Myers as well. 

Ciclovia on video from Bogota: 

 

 

Immokalee Zocalo now an award-winning public plaza!

The Immokalee Zocalo - or public plaza - is now an award-winning town square! 

The Zocalo, formally opened in May, won two prestigious 2014 Sand Dollar Awards presented by the Collier Building Industry Association (CBIA) for outstanding achievement in construction. 

Well, okay, the awards were actually given to Surety Construction Company, which built the plaza, but the whole of Immokalee and the Immokalee CRA, which bought the land for the plaza at the corner of First Street and Main Street and paid for the plaza's construction, share in the awards. 

The biggest Sand Dollar Award for the Zocalo was being named by the CBIA, the Best Public Works Project (under $100,000) in Collier County. 

The cute, imaginative bicycle racks in the plaza also won the award for Best Specialty Feature - By a Builder (of any construction project in Collier). 

"This is certainly an honor for Surety Construction Company and the community of Immokalee benefited greatly from having it as the construction partner on the project," said Brad Muckel, executive director of the Immokalee CRA. "But these awards are also an honor for the people of Immokalee who placed great pride and interest in the Zocalo and are enjoying the rewards of having such a wonderful public gathering spot."

Naples architect David Corban designed the plaza and Naples landscape architect Ellen Goetz designed the landscaped system of trees and plants. 

The CBIA is a not-for-profit professional association of dedicated professionals who are inspired to make a difference in our community through advocacy, education, networking and philanthropy on behalf of the construction industry. CBIA is one of 800 state and local associations and operates under the auspices of the Florida Home Builders Association and the National Association of Home Builders. 

Economic blueprint for Immokalee on the horizon!

By next summer Immokalee could have a new economic blueprint for its future as "Florida in the 21st Century." 

Development of the plan will be a joint project of the Immokalee CRA, Collier County government and the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council, a five-county intergovernment body based in Fort Myers. 

The plan will analyze the economic strengths and weaknesses of Immokalee, evaluate realistic opportunities for growth which complement the region's rural setting and develop a strategic plan for sustainable economic development in the decades to come. The project will cost $25,000 and will be funded by a state grant. 

"Immokalee's economy focused primarily on agriculture in the past with many farms and packaging plants in the surrounding area," explains documents prepared for the DEO. "While agriculture remains an important economic base, other economic activities are need to bring diversity and new opportunities.  

"Recent improvements include the new Ave Maria subdivision less than 10 miles away, plans for a new Walmart store, construction of a new hotel a the Seminole Immokalee Casino, infrastructure investment by the Immokalee CRA to improve sidewalks and drainage and a new vocational school," the documents continues. "Although these are small developments they indicate an expanding community.

"The Immokalee CRA would like to incorporate these improvements, along with other programs  it offers to expand and grow the economy and create more opportunities for Immokalee residents in a unified, focused strategy." 

Those "other programs" to which the documents refer include the community's designation as a Foreign Trade Zone, a HUB Zone, a Florida Enterprise Zone, a Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern (RACEC) and its inclusion in the Florida Heartland Rural Economic Development Initiative (FHREDI). 

 

CRA moving ahead with more drainage, sidewalk projects

The Immokalee CRA continues to improves the community's drainage system and continues improving safety by building additional sidewalks. 

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) has approved the plans and specifications for two additional projects, both part of a long-term Disaster Recovery Initiative, approved by the U.S. Congress.

The larger of two projects is a $2.1 million storm water drainage system, sidewalks and roadway improvements to Immokalee Drive and North 16th Street.

The second, which is primarily a pedestrian safety initiative, is a $500,000 drainage installation and sidewalk construction project along both sides of Colorado Avenue, from South First to South Ninth Streets in the vicinity of Pinecrest Elementary School.  
 
The CRA will move very soon to hire a general contractor and begin construction. The procurement process will take approximately two months and construction should begin in November.  

"This approval marks a significant milestone in the execution of both projects," said Bradley Muckel, executive director of the Immokalee CRA. "The project timetable fits perfectly into the SW FLA dry season." 

CRA adds bike helmets to annual Lipman backpack giveaway!

Bike Helmet Give-awayIt's part good ol' community festival and part pre-school, get-the-kids-ready event and for the third year Immokalee's Lipman companies held its Backpack Giveaway event August 2 at the Immokalee Sports Complex. 

Hundreds of kids - and parents - came out for the Saturday event and the Immokalee Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) also participated by giving away bicyle helmets to Immokalee school children. 

"With bicycle and pedestrian safety a growing concern in Immokalee, we wanted to contribute something to the Lipman companies' generous effort by also help kids safe during the coming school year and beyond," said Bradley Muckel, CRA executive director. 

School begins in Collier County in two weeks. The Lipman companies - long known as 6Ls Farms - is one of the oldest and largest family-owned produce growers and distributors in the U.S. and the single largest field tomato producer in the nation. 

In addition to the annual backpack giveaway, Lipman provides over $60,000 in college scholarships each year to high school students in Collier and Lee counties. 

Immokalee CRA advances community's economic development

The potential of Immokalee as a regional or state manufacturing, distribution center was on the mind of regional, state and private evaluators earlier this month when they toured the community. 

The staff of two important state economic development agencies – Enterprise Florida and Florida's Heartland Regional Economic Development Initiative (FHREDI) – and a private investment firm – Site Selection Group – toured Immokalee July 15, hosted by the Immokalee Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). 

The purpose of the visit was to evaluate the community of Immokalee against other interior Florida communities for its readiness to compete for regional manufacturing and distribution development. The exercise allowed the CRA constituent-partner agencies to assess the community competitiveness of Immokalee for future corporate investment.  

During the visit members of these three agencies were given a windshield tour of the Immokalee community followed by a tour of the 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility near the Immokalee Regional Airport currently being offered for sale by Colliers International

Career Source Southwest Florida staff members also provided details on job placement services, training, financial aid, internship programs and career development workshops. 

CRA staff provided detailed information to the group on economic development incentives related to the Florida State Enterprise Zone Program, the Federal HUB Zone Program, Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern (RACEC) and Foreign Free Trade Zone incentives

The tour ended with a visit to the Immokalee Technical Center (iTECH), where the group learned of the various programs of study offered by iTECH, its statistical data and how the facility can build training programs geared to a wide range of prospective industrial developers. 

As the acting Enterprise Zone Coordinators for the community, the Immokalee CRA regularly provides technical assistance to local businesses searching for economic development incentive programs. The July site selection exercise furthers the CRA’s expertise in economic development, not only on a local level but also from a regional perspective. 

Through strategic partnerships, the CRA will continue to explore and develop similar endeavors geared toward the shifting economic base of the community.    

About FHREDI:
FHREDI is a regional economic development organization representing Desoto, Glades, Hendry, Highlands, and Okeechobee Counties, the Cities of Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay and the Community of Immokalee.   Leveraging regional resources, FHREDI serves as a catalyst for government and business collaboration. Its purpose is to market, facilitate and advocate for economic development opportunities that will bolster the tax base and personal income for these areas. The targeted industries of the region are global trade and logistics, manufacturing, food processing and medical.

Immokalee CRA saves church $15,000 in sidewalk repairs

By its presence and advocacy for all Immokaleans, the Immokalee Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) recently saved $15,000 for the Immokalee Church of the Nazarene in sidewalk costs. 

The church, a long-standing and well-regarded congregation, is in the midst of a building campaign with the help of Thomas Riley Artisans Guild and what it doesn't need is an additional $15,000 tacked on top of its expansion effort. 

Through negotiation with Collier County, the Immokalee CRA was able to reduce the costs of the sidewalk improvements and work out a solution for all - without costing Imokalee or Collier County taxpayers any additional costs. 

 "On behalf of my dad, Pastor Paul, and  the Immokalee Church of the Nazarene, I thank you for taking the time to look into this for us and I also want to say thank you for your continuing effort, along with Christie (Bentancourt) and the CRA team,  to make OUR HOME (Immokalee) a better place to live," said Flavel Paul, community and church leader. "Thank you so much for your effort and commitment to the people in Immokalee. Just in case you didn’t realize it, YOU and the CRA Gang just save the church At least $ 15,000.00 by getting involved."

Immokalee CRA in disagreement with Collier County about grant fulfillment

In its July 16 edition, the Naples Daily News published a piece detailing - to some degree - a disagreement over grant funding currently being worked out between the Immokalee CRA, Collier County Department of Housing, Human & Veteran Services (HHVS) and the Collier County Clerk's Finance Department.  

 

The two grants, which originated at The United Stated Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), but are administered locally by HHVS, were approved by Collier County and provided to the Immokalee CRA to cover operational costs associated with its Immokalee Business Development Center (IBDC) Program, which was created and managed in years past under a former CRA Director as a for its business incubator.

The IBDC served as an economic tool facilitating the growth and development of new and existing businesses in Immokalee by sponsoring business related workshops, trainings, information technology, hands-on-management assistance, education, technical support services, networking resources, and financial counseling.

What has developed is a difference of opinion about the official HUD definition of “job creation” which was a performance requirement tied to the two grants. how effective those grants were. 

No one has accused the CRA or IBDC of any wrong-doing. The substance of requests made by HHVS the county finance department to the CRA is primarily focused on specific documentation related to the outcome of the IBDC business counseling services.  

“We are still compiling the requested documentation,” explained Immokalee CRA Manager Executive Director Bradley Muckle. “Given the enormity of the task, it will require at least two weeks to produce the mountain of information requested.

“I expect it to be in the neighborhood of hundreds of pages. This is only one step in a monitoring exercise that may take months, if not years to play out, given the level of detail required to substantiate job creation on an ‘after-the-fact’ basis.”