Immokalee Today Florida's 21st Century

Immokalee property tax values, revenue increases

For the first time in seven years the property tax values in Immokalee - and, therefore, revenues increased in 2014, according to Collier County tax collections. 

The figures were reported earlier this week by Bradley Muckel, executive director of the Immokalee Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), to the Collier County Commission sitting as the formal governing body of the Immokalee CRA. 

The increase was a small one - jumping from $223,000 in 2013 to just $266,000 in 2014 - but significant given how hard hit Immokalee was by the Great Recession. 

"Any sign of growth is a good thing," Muckel told the lawmakers. 

However, he cautioned, those figures are only one-third of what they were prior to the recession when Immokalee tax revenues hovered around $800,000 annually. 

Muckel gave his report to the county commissioners during the lawmakers' annual workshop with both of Collier's CRAs, Immokalee and its cousin in East Naples, the Bayshore-Gateway Triangle CRA. 

The Naples Daily News reported on the workshop and, if you're a paid subscriber, you can read the Daily News account here

Muckel told lawmakers he is optimistic about the community's future because development, entrepreneurism and construction are on the increase. 

“We have a Walmart coming and a Taco Bell under construction,” he told the Daily News. “A First Bank is in permitting, three Family Dollar Stores are coming and a frozen yogurt shop and Subway just finished construction on Main Street. Our goal is to get back to where we were in ‘07 and keep growing. We want to get to a point where blight is down enough that we won’t qualify for all of these grants anymore that fund our big ticket items.”



Enterprise Zones headed for sunset.

Florida Capitol BuildingUnless something drastic happens in the second half of the Florida Legislature's 2015 session, it appears Enterprise Zones in Florida - including Immokalee's - will die a natural death at the end of the year. 

Enterprise Zones offer the most cost-effective program in the Sunshine State for job creation, entrepreneurial encouragement and a ticket out of poverty for small businesses seeking to find a firm financial footing in today’s marketplace. 

In Immokalee alone, its Enterprise Zone has provided over $200,000 in tax incentives and other assistance to nearly 20 businesses over the past decade. 

Revived in 2005, the Enterprise Zone program in Florida is set to sunset at the end of 2015, meaning those tax incentives and other small business support will cease to exist. 

Bills filed to extend the life of the program are languishing in committees in both the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate and at this point in the annual two-month session bills that haven't moved out of committee are likely not to. 

One bill, House Bill 7067, appeared initially to be favored by the House leadership, was given Preferred Committee Bill status (almost a guarantee for passage) but it was withdrawn suddenly March 31. That bill, however, would have eliminated the Enterprise Zone program and replaced it with a somewhat similar program but only at the discretion of each county's government body. 

In addition, the Orlando Sentinel published in March a piece quoting both the Florida Senate President and the Speaker of the Florida House as saying the program would die. 

Florida Tax Watch, a well-respected non-partisan watch-dog organization, issued a report before the 2015 session began supporting the Enteprise Zone program and the Florida Association of Counties has been supportive.  

But unless the tide changes and starts flowing back in greater support for the programs, it appears 2015 will be the last year of Enterprise in Immokalee and the rest of the Sunshine State. 

Immokalee Construction projects moving along on schedule.

Two major street projects are moving on - or ahead of - schedule in Immokalee. 

The storm water drainage project at the western end of Immokalee Drive and the sidewalk construction project on Colorado Avenue will, when completed, make Immokalee a much drier and safer community

The larger of two projects is the $2.1 million storm water drainage system, sidewalks and roadway improvements to Immokalee Drive, which began at North 16th Street and moved to the west.

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.  

Money for both projects came through Collier County government by way of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) after being appropriated by the U.S. Congress as part of the long-term Disaster Recovery Initiative, approved by the U.S. Congress.

The Immokalee Drive project is the first to be design jointly with the Big Cypress Basin, a subdivision in Collier and Lee counties of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). The district provided $200,000 of engineering services to the project.

The Immokalee CRA completed last December a $3.5 million storm water collection system in South Immokalee.


Sweat Equity grant program for Immokalee businesses.

Immokalee business owners have a new way to renovate store and business exteriors. 

The Immokalee CRA has opened its new Sweat Equity Grant Program to match 50 percent of the costs business owners spend on fixing up store fronts, exterior commercial buildings and aesthetic site improvements. 

All improvements must meet certain criteria (below) and must meet requirements of the community's current land development code, building codes and zoning overlays. Improvements which may correct sited code violoations also qualify if they are combined with other site improvements. 

The new program, along with many other CRA projects and programs are funded each year through a mechanism called Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, which captures Collier County property taxes above the 2000 Fiscal Year property tax value. TIF is a unique tool used to leverage public funds and promote private sector economic activity.

To qualify for the Sweat Equity grant program, businesses must meet these set of standards and criteria:  

  • The Grant is for commercial for-profit business structures that: 1) pay into the CRA tax increment, and 2) which are operating with a valid occupational license within the Immokalee 
  • Community Redevelopment Area, as established by Collier County Ordinance No. 2000-42.
  • The CRA will reimburse 50% of the cost of materials only for external improvements to existing structures, buildings and surrounding property.   
  • Grants will be paid out on a reimbursement basis upon verification by CRA staff that the items identified on material receipts have been used on the property for the purposes outlined on the application.
  • The minimum grant amount under this program shall be $250.00 (minimum $500.00 total material cost).
  • The maximum grant amount under this program shall be $2000.00 (minimum total material cost $4000.00).
  • No monetary value will be placed on the applicants sweat equity. Funds may not be used to cover the cost of labor or personal effort.
  • Funds may not be used to cover any permitting, design and/or inspection fees. 
  • Applicant must perform at least two exterior improvements that have been accepted by the CRA 
  • Advisory Board. Examples include windows/doors, stucco/paint, landscaping/irrigation, awnings/shutters, etc.
  • Grant applications will be considered on a first-come first-served basis by CRA staff.
  • Grants applications shall be awarded by the CRA Governing Board upon recommendation by 1) CRA staff, and 2) the CRA Local Advisory Board. 
  • Grants will be considered for award by CRA staff based on funding availability.In order to spread the impact of the program throughout the community, there will be a one-year waiting period between grant awards for each individual property.   
  • All proposed work must be approved via written CRA notice-to-proceed before beginning any work.  
  • Grant funding is not retroactive. Receipts that are dated before application approval date will not be a recognized expenditure. 
  • Applicants are required to request a meeting with CRA staff prior to submittal of application.

Please call the Immokalee CRA office for more information. Questions can be directed in Spanish to Christie Betancourt, 239-867-0025; in Creole to James Sainvilus, 239-867-0026; or in English to Bradley Muckel, 239-867-0027. 

Bike helmets offered for Ciclovia Immokalee participants!

Here's your chance to get a free bike helmet on Saturday morning at Ciclovia Immokalee

The Immokalee CRA will be giving away free bike helmets to those to come out Saturday, March 7th - 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Immokalee Community Park - for the second Ciclovia Immokalee event. 

Over 400 people attended the family fun day of exercise, healthy eating and all kinds of activities designed to get you moving toward a healthy way of living. 

Activities will include Rock Climbing, a Pedestrian Rodeo, Scooters, Hula Hoops, Volleyball, Zumba, Stretching Exercises, Yoga, Jumping Ropes, Kick ball, Tennis, Games, a Wheel of Health and much more. 

Ciclovia Immokalee will transform the Community Park and an Immokalee street into a car-free, family friendly, and a vibrant place to move, walk, run, bike, skateboard and meet your friends and neighbors

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.

The broad coalition of planning groups and agencies 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.

Florida Legislature should work to save Enterprise Zones, including Immokalee's

Immokalee’s Enterprise Zone – along with Florida’s other 64 Enterprise Zones – is under a severe threat again in the Florida Legislature. 

Revived in 2005 and set to sunset at the end of 2015, unless the Legislature acts to save them, Enterprise Zones offer the most cost-effective program in the Sunshine State for job creation, entrepreneurial encouragement and a ticket out of poverty for small businesses seeking to find a firm financial footing in today’s marketplace. 

In Immokalee alone, its Enterprise Zone has provided over $200,000 in tax incentives and other assistance to nearly 20 businesses over the past decade. 

House Bill 903, filed by Florida State Rep. Elizabeth Porter, R-Lake City, has been filed in the legislature’s lower house to extend and reform Enterprise Zones. 

Senate Bill 392, filed by Sen. Jeff Clemons, D-Lake Worth, has been filed in the Florida Senate. 

But those efforts may face troubled waters in the Florida Senate where Senate Commerce & Tourism Committee Chair, Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, has been quoted saying she will not allow any discussion of Enterprise Zone extensions to come before her committee. 

Southwest Florida’s senior lawmaker in the upper house, State Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, also serves on the Senate Commerce Committee and efforts are being directed at all lawmakers with nearby ties to persuade them of the value and continuing need for Enterprise Zone benefits in Immokalee and around the state. 

"Enterprise Zones across the state have helped curb a shortage of investment, in both local community support and in private capital, experienced by the state's deteriorating areas," said Dominic M. Calabro, President and CEO of the independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy research institute and government watchdog, Florida TaxWatch. "Our comprehensive analysis of Florida's Enterprise Zones calls for substantial legislative reforms that will increase the program's efficacy and value to taxpayers and each of the communities they were established to serve."

TaxWatch produced its report earlier this month and focused on several key highlights and often overlooked benefits of the program, including: 

  • It is one of the only economic development programs available for retail businesses. 
  • It supports and encourages businesses which provide necessary service to the communities in which the businesses are located: food and medication, for example. 
  • Because it requires relatively little of Florida’s massive state budget it is the single most cost-effective economic development program in the Sunshine State.

The Florida Association of Counties has weighed in to educate lawmakers and the public about the benefits of Enterprise Zones

Does all this mean the Enterprise Zone program should remain untouched and unchanged? Absolutely not. 

TaxWatch and Enterprise Zone managers all agree the program would benefit from some needed reforms. 

Marketing efforts should be increased, TaxWatch suggested, to encourage more small businesses to take advantage of the program. Reporting metrics and methods should be brought up to modern standards and, like many other state programs, the transparency of Enterprise Zones can be improved. 

"Enterprise Zones meet a need that no other program can," said Bob Swindell, Chairman of the Florida Economic Development Council and President and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance. "While Enterprise Zones aren't attracting the state's largest companies with the highest-paying jobs, they are directly affecting the quality of life for residents of the state's most isolated and deteriorating areas."

"Enterprise Zones are a vital tool to encourage economic development and provide needed jobs to Floridians in low-income urban and rural areas," said Amy Evancho, President of the Florida Economic Development Council. "The Florida Legislature must act to make smart reforms to ensure this valuable tool continues to provide essential services, such Florida's economically depressed areas."

“Local Enterprise Zone advocates are also pushing for reform, in addition to a lengthy extension of the program,” explained Bradley Muckel, executive director of the Immokalee CRA and the Immokalee Enterprise Zone. 

“The Enterprise Zone Development Agency in Immokalee recently voted by unanimous decision to send letter to all key political gatekeepers of the program voicing their concern over the looming December 2015 sunset date,” he said. 

Key reform points include lowering the barriers of entry into the program, which would allow very small businesses to participate in the numerous rebate programs which fall under the Enterprise Zone umbrella. 

“For example, the minimum expenditure thresholds within the Building Equipment Sales Tax Rebate Program should be lowered from $5000 to $500 per piece,” Muckel suggested. “Also, the full-time employee requirement dictated by the Property Tax Credit Program should be lowered from five full-time employees to two FTE’s (full time equivalents). "


First Street Zocalo garners national design award!

It was a snowy, wintery Washington D.C. but the sunshine and warmth of Immokalee's First Street Zocalo brought welcomed glow to the Jannuary winter conference of the National Community Development Association (NCDA). 

That's when the Immokalee CRA was presented with NCDA's 2015 Audrey Nelson Community Development Award for the community's new First Street Zocalo. 

Named for the first deputy executive secretary of the NCDA in 1987, the award recognizes "exemplary uses of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program and the partnerships between local governments and non-profit organizations to assist low- and moderate-income persons. 

"The First Street Plaza was created as a comprehensive vision for the future of Immokalee," said the NCDA in its presentation. "The Plaza has created a greater livable community that creates a gateway to the downtown business community."

As an award recipient the Immokalee CRA and its design/construction team was invited to Washington  to present to the NCDA an overview of the project during the NCDA Winter Conference. 

"It was wonderful to be recognized by other community development organizations for our work on the Zocalo," said Immokalee CRA Executive Director Bradley Mucklel. "We could not have built the Zocalo without community support and the design and construction team that included architect David Corban, landscape architect Ellin Goetz and our construction team at Surety Construction." 

In the photo above, architect David Corban is featured at the far right and Muckel is in the photo to Corbin's immediate right. 

The NCDA award was another in a growing list of award granted the CRA for the First Street Zocalo. It was honored in September by the Collier Building Industry Association by winning one of its coveted Sand Dollar Awards. 


Home rehab informational meeting - February 5

Some home-owning Immokaleans could take advantage of a state-county program to rehabilitate homes. 

The Collier County SHIP Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation Program will hold an informational meeting about the various opportunities on February 5, at 6 p.m. at CareerSource Immokalee (the One-Stop Shop), 750 South 5th Street

The program provides interest-free, deferred loans to assist eligible homeowners in with home rehabilitation. 

How, one might ask, does one apply for such a loan? 

 Your annual combined household income cannot exceed these maximum income limits, based on family size of: 

2014 Income Limits 
Household Size:         1               2                3                   4                5               6                7 

Very Low (50%)   $23,050     $26,350     $29,650     $32,900     $35,550     $38,200     $40,800 

What are the requirements of a Homeowner? You must own or have a mortgage for at least twelve months and the home must be your primary place of residence. Proof of mortgage or deed as well legal residency or citizenship status, will be required. 

Are there any restrictions as to where the property may be located? The property must be located within unincorporated Collier County, the City of Naples, the City of Marco Island, or Everglades City. 

Are there any other restrictions? The Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation Program may be used to rehabilitate single-family homes, townhouses, or condominium units. Mobile homes do not qualify for assistance. The maximum assessed value of the property cannot be over $300,000, including after rehab assistance (As determined by the Collier County Property Appraiser assessed value). 

How much money can I borrow? You may qualify for up to $30,000.00 for rehabilitation or repair work to your home. A Promissory Note will be secured by a Second Mortgage payable to Collier County when you sell your home, refinance your home, or lose your homestead exemption. 

Who does the rehabilitation work? Homeowners will submit an Application for Housing Assistance to Collier County Community & Human Services Department (CHS). Once CHS determines the household is income eligible, we will refer your case to Centro Campesino Farmworker Center Inc. who will initiate an inspection of your home. The inspection will determine if your home is eligible for rehabilitation. Note* There is a two part approval process; 1) Household eligibility 2) Property eligibility. 

Centro Campesino Farmworker Center, Inc. will oversee the rehabilitation process and will work with homeowners and contractors directly through the construction phase of the program. 

Applications for the Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation Program are available at the Collier County Community & Human Services Department located at 3339 Tamiami Trail E, BldgH #211 Naples, Fl 34112. 

Are there any fees required when applying? There is no application fee. 

How are the funds distributed? Funds are loaned on a first come first serve basis. The County is particularly interested in assisting low and very-low income households. 

Who do I call if I have more questions about this program? Call Mandy Moody at 239-252-2338 or Email at


Immokalee & Ave Maria featured in Gulfshore Business Relocation Guide

Immokalee and Ave Maria, just five miles to the south of Immokalee, share a page in the Gulfshore Business Magazine's annual relocation guide, published in January. 

The publication also lists the Seminole Immokalee Casino as the region's biggest tourist draw with over two million visitors annually. 

Economic incentives drive economic growth in Immokalee

The opening soon of the new hotel at Seminole Immokalee Casino and two chain eateries it certainly appears economic development in Immokalee is on the upswing. 

The Seminole Tribe of Florida can, of course, spur its own economic development but a new Taco Bell in Immokalee and a relocated and expanded Subway Sandwich Shop - to be followed by a frozen yogurt franchise - are the direct result of federal and state economic incentives sheparded by the Immokalee Community Redevelopment District (CRA). 

No less than the Naples Daily News cited recently in an editorial the exciting and change economic and civic climate of this once sleepy farming community into a shining example of Florida in the 21st Century. 

"With the economic incentives we have at our disposal, we could offer help for both Taco Bell and the new Subway Shop and help them realize the potential market they can find here in Immokalee," explained CRA Executive Director Bradley Muckel. "The increasing economic opportunities here are very exciting." 

And, of course, none this is to exclude the Wal-Mart set to open in Immokalee in 2016. 

Among the economic incentives is the U.S. Small Business Administration's designation of Immokalee as a Historically Underutilized Business Zone, or HUB Zone, which helps create jobs and attracts private investment into a community. 

The Immokalee Rural Enterprize Zone designation by the State of Florida allows new (and, in some cases, existing) businesses tax breaks and regulatory relief to help those new businesses get started. 

The Free Foreign Trade Zone, a 60-acre designation at the Immokalee Regional Aiport, offer customs and tariff assistance for companies which import and export goods into and from Immokalee and the rest of Florida. 

"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," opined the Naples Daily News back in December

"As documented (last) 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."

The future in Immokalee is a clear as a bright, crisp Floriday!