Eminent domain misundertood: Cape Coral (FL) News-Press, 7/30/06

City part of redevelopment education project

By Pete Skiba

Despite Florida's laws against taking property for the elimination of blighted areas, people still believe that it can be done, said a state redevelopment organization spokeswoman.

"People thought we could just go in and take their homes in a Community Redevelopment Area," said Carol Westmoreland, executive director of the Florida Redevelopment Association. "We weren't taking people's homes and we can't take people's homes or businesses."

The statewide organization of 178 redevelopment areas plans to use Cape Coral as a pilot project to educate people on eminent domain and the purpose of a redevelopment area.

A state law signed by Gov. Jeb Bush on May 11 specifically restricts eminent domain or the taking of property for the community's welfare. Usually eminent domain is used to obtain land for roads, public facilities and water and sewer line installation.

The new law restricts eminent domain from being used to improve slums and blighted areas — an objective of Community Redevelopment Agencies.

The Florida redevelopment organization chose Cape Coral because it is considered to be making significant progress in rebuilding he blighted downtown and in educating investors, business owners and residents about its goals, said Westmoreland.

The state redevelopment organization hired RB Oppenheim Associates to review the Cape's public relations campaign and get the word out.

"Actually Cape Coral has been so effective, I'd say we are going to use it as a model for our manual rather than as a pilot project," said Rick Oppenheim, the public relations firm's owner.

The redevelopment agency hopes to turn the downtown into a thriving area where people can live, work, attend shows and dine out, among other activities, in a pleasant walkable area.

The redevelopment area covers Cape Coral's downtown from Tudor Drive to the west along both sides of Cape Coral Parkway to the Cape Coral Bridge at the east. A section runs north along Del Prado Boulevard to Southeast 44th Street.

Several projects with retail stores, restaurants and residential condominiums have been acquiring land and navigating the government regulation ocean to become reality. A couple others such as the proposed Piazza Di Venezia project could bring in a billion dollars of offices, restaurants, hotels and a possible convention center.

The manual outlining how redevelopment areas could effectively promote their goals should be finished by October in time for a statewide conference of redevelopment agency officials.

Costs for the project will be taken out of the state organization's $152,629 total budget. Because the program is just beginning there has been no estimate of the program's full cost, Westmoreland said.

The state organization collects dues from more than 600 members, including but not limited to the state's redevelopment agencies. A larger portion of the total budget comes from conferences, conventions and educational programs the organization hosts.

"I consider myself lucky to work with people who helped make our good work come to the attention of the state association," said Suzanne Kuehn, redevelopment agency executive director.

Cape Coral News-Press: http://www.news-press.com