Immokalee Today Florida's 21st Century

Immokalee Christmas Around The World - December 13!

For 23 years Immokalee's Christmas Around The World celebration has been a mainstay of holiday festivities in Southwest Florida and the 2014 edition is set for December 13! 

Sponsored and organized each year by the Christmas around the World Committee and the Collier County Parks & Recreation Department, the Annual Christmas Parade and Snow Gala is set to launch at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday right along Main Street in Immokalee. 
 
The 2014 parade will feature a special section devoted to, "Organizations that make Collier County , Fl.....The Place to Work & Live."
 
The parade will be followed by a Christmas Gala at the Immokalee community swimming pool with lots of food, games, music, machine-produced snow and singers and dancers from Immokalee. The highlight of the Christmas Gala is the Grand Finale and the arrival of Santa Claus, via helicopter, courtesy of the Seminole Tribe of Immokalee. The Seminole Immokalee Casino provides free books to every child who take pictures with Santa during the evening.
 
The parade will again feature a float competition and will travel from the corner of Carver and First (1st) Streets directly across from the Seminole Casino(506 S. First Street) continuing on a path that leads to the Immokalee High School’s football field parking lot. The Gala will start immediately thereafter at the Immokalee Soccer Field across our Immokalee High School.
 
Partial proceeds from this Parade & Gala will go towards several scholarships to deserving Immokalee High School Seniors who plan to advance through higher education.  The remaining funds will be used by Parks & Recreation to offset Gala Event expenditures. Parks and Recreation will be charging an entrance fee of $1.00 to all persons 36 inches and taller. 
 
Please contact the Immokalee Chamber of Commerce for more information, (239) 657-3237 or e-mail, ecoc@comcast.net. As she is every year, long-time Immokalee community leader Cherryle Thomas chairs the 2014 event. 

Immokalee Christmas Tree Lighting - An extraordinary event!

For the first time, Immokalee held a community Christmas Tree in the First Street Zocalo! 

"It's a good start," said Cherryle Thomas to the Naples Daily News. Thomas is chair of the advisory board of the Immokalee Lighting and Beautification Municipal Tax Service, which paid for the decorations.

Read more about the event in the Daily News (if you have a subscription) and see photos. 

 

"Have you heard what's happening in Immokalee lately?"

So proclaims the joyful editorial in the November 29 edition of the Naples Daily News

Yes, that's right: the Naples Daily News triumphantly boasted of all the advancements and growth occuring in today's Immokalee.  And Immokaleans are grateful for the shout out! 

You won't be able to read the full editorial unless you're a paid subscriber to the Naples Daily News but we'll quote for you a few passages and you'll get the idea how proud the newspaper seems to be of the progress being made in our community:

"It’s encouraging to see one announcement after another about big plans that could sustain Immokalee, a community that for a long time rose or fell on the success of its seasonal crops.

"As documented this summer by Daily News reporter Maria Perez, young adults who came from field labor or blue-collar families are returning to Immokalee with degrees and specialized training to pursue their adult lives where they were raised. The draw of professionals with degrees back to their hometown can help lead the way long-term in reducing Immokalee’s poverty, with about 4 of 10 residents living below the poverty line.

"2000 census data showed that 3.8 percent of Immokalee residents 25 and older had an associate, bachelor’s, graduate or professional degree. That rose to 6.1 percent for 2008-12, based on updated census data.

"A group of Immokalee High School students tinkered with their grandmas’ recipes to develop a line of food products with a taste of Immokalee. So far they have a spice mix, a fire roasted tomato and jalapeño sauce, orange zest chocolate chip cookies and an idea for an Immokalee hamburger. They recently debuted two of their products at Wynn’s Market in Naples.

"Not coincidentally, the theme of this year’s Immokalee Foundation event was Hope Grows, and sponsors say it set a fundraising record with more than $2 million in donations. Students who have emerged from poverty to pursue their own careers are helping give hope to today’s students assisted by the foundation.

"Yet other forms of excitement planned for Immokalee keep its agricultural and ranching roots in place. The Seminole Tribe of Florida plans to host a rodeo in late January. Fire Chief Paul Anderson, who is leading an Immokalee Fire Control District that is making strides to emerge from near-bankruptcy five years ago, planted the idea. He hopes it will help the district identify more volunteer firefighters. Under Anderson, the district has seen its fire insurance rating improve and is working toward catching up on building inspections that fell by the wayside with its budget crisis during the Great Recession.

"About six months ago, years of planning by the Immokalee Community Redevelopment Agency came to fruition with a nearly $1 million public plaza and park at First and Main streets. The gathering spot has wood benches and a landscaped area next to a band shell.

"Another initiative in the works involving the CRA is a plan with the Safe & Healthly Children’s Coalition of Collier County and other organizations for Immokalee Ciclovia early next year. The event would feature families coming together weekly to walk, run and cycle the streets of Immokalee.

"Meanwhile, the Seminole Tribe is helping direct the community forward. Part of the vision is a new four-story hotel on the site of the Seminole Casino Immokalee.

"Other plans for major new projects emerged this year, including a Walmart at Westclox Road and North 15th Street that will add jobs and eliminate long trips for those in town needing to get to a discount outlet, now dozens of miles away."

Yes, ineed, have you heard what's happening in Immokalee lately? 

Immokalee seeks Promise Zone designation

The Immokalee CRA will partner with Glades & Hendry counties and Southwest Florida regional planners to establish a Promise Zone, backed by and supported with the resources of the U.S. government. 

Collier County commissioners approved the partnership Nov. 18 and work will begin immediately to lay the ground work and submit an application for the valued designation to the U.S. Housing & Urban Development Department (HUD). The Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council, a 6-county planning agency, will oversee and coordinate the application process. 

The Promise Zone initiative, announced by the Obama Administration in 2013 and set into motion in 2014, is intended to "create a better bargain for the middle-class by partnering with local communities and businesses to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing and improve public safety," according to White House documents

"The Promise Zone designation commits the federal government to partner with local leaders who are addressing multiple community revitalizaton challenges and have demonstrated a commitment to improving communities," explained Bradley Muckel, executive director of the Immokalee CRA. "(If approved) federal staff will be assigned to each community to help navigate the vast array of federal assistance programs available to Promise Zone designees.

"In addition, organizations contributing to Promise Zone strategies will be given preferred access to some competitive federal programs and will received technical assistance and other non-competitive support," Muckel continued . "Businesses investing in Promise Zones or hiring residents of Promize Zone will be eligible for tax incentives, if eventually approved by the Congress." 

Immokalee is already under the jurisdiction of a number of federal and state supported designations, all of which offer an array of government and public-private opportunities for the community, for its entrepreneurs, its working people and major economic contributors. 

 

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."