Google Ads help pay the expense of maintaining this site

Click Here for the Neighborhood Transformation Website

Fair Use Disclaimer

Neighborhood Transformation is a nonprofit, noncommercial website that, at times, may contain copyrighted material that have not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It makes such material available in its efforts to advance the understanding of poverty and low income distressed neighborhoods in hopes of helping to find solutions for those problems. It believes that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. Persons wishing to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of their own that go beyond 'fair use' must first obtain permission from the copyright owner.
9/5/02: Daily Business Review

Collins Center close to deciding which S. Florida neighborhoods will get millions

By: Lynda Edwards

It sounds like the script of a feel-good blockbuster movie. A think tank backed by well-heeled donors scours South Florida's poorest neighborhoods for the perfect place to spend millions of dollars for new stores, homes and jobs. The secret selection process gives brownie points to enthusiastic residents and receptive politicians.

It's not fiction. By year's end, one Palm Beach County neighborhood and one in Broward will be chosen to receive about $3 million each over the next three years.

The nonprofit Collins Center for Public Policy is conducting the reconnaissance now. It's a new duty for the Tallahassee-based institute, founded in 1988 by bipartisan political and legal stars including former Gov. Lawton Chiles.

"We're more known for research papers on school vouchers and public transportation than working in the urban trenches," said Collins executive vice president Mark Pritchett, who held the same title at Enterprise Florida and the state chamber of commerce.

A Collins study titled "Eastward Ho" three years ago urged South Florida developers to build in devastated inner cities rather than pave over the Everglades. That prompted the Ford Foundation and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to give Collins grants totaling $7 million to buy South Florida inner-city parcels and teach activist residents how to develop them.

Collins real estate director Bernice Butler has generally identified seven Broward areas: Konover in Fort Lauderdale; Flagler Heights/Progresso along with Regal Trace in Fort Lauderdale; Hallandale Beach; the eastern area of Pompano Beach; and Collier City.

In Palm Beach County, there are eight neighborhood finalists, including West Palm Beach's historically black Pleasant City/Northwood area; Jupiter's Limestone Creek; Boca Raton's black enclave called Pearl City; western Delray Beach; Riviera Beach's waterfront; and Lake Worth's blue-collar waterfront.

The final Palm Beach candidate is a 374-acre Riviera Beach tract of warehouses and wetlands that owner Watermark Communities Inc. was unable to develop.

The winners in each county will have powerful partners. Collins president Rod Petrey is of counsel to Holland ~Knight and the James L. Knight Foundation.

When Overtown was anointed Collins' Miami model neighborhood last year, the Knight Foundation plopped down a $3 million grant for Collins to use to buy Overtown land parcels. Collins trustees include high-powered attorneys such as Joseph Klock Jr. of Steel Hector ~Davis and Carlton Fields' Bob Martinez.

But three years since the program was established seems a long time to identify candidates. And no Overtown parcels have yet been purchased.

"We're still coming up to speed on jargon, ordinances," Pritchett says. "We will have over $3 million to spend in each model and want to spend it well."

Collins has hired Integra Realty/AREEA to investigate each locale's politicians and members of the financial community. Integra will recommend a locale as the best choice for Collins later this month.

"But my vote is the decisive one," says Butler. When we hired a Pittsburgh urban planning firm to analyze the Miami finalists, I chose Overtown over their recommendation."

The analysts' first choice was Little Havana. They were enchanted by its dilapidated, elegant buildings and community activism. "But Little Havana doesn't have a lot of vacant lots or buildings for in-fill, and Overtown has plenty," Butler notes. "Our mandate at Collins is to develop neighborhoods without displacing current residents."

Collins' criteria for the Broward and Palm Beach winners include: in-fill space and a neighborhood whose residents are willing to tackle the tasks of setting up meetings, researching county codes and contacting local politicians who are unified on basic urban issues. Collins will only develop mixed-use projects, with the understanding that the neighborhood residents and leaders must agree to include "mixed-income housing."

"We want housing for upper-middle-class, blue-collar workers, and 25 percent of the units must be affordable to people earning $25,000 annually," Butler explains. "That last category scares Palm Beach politicians sometimes, but our work force includes secretaries and couples who work at McDonald's on that salary."

To gauge how receptive a community is to Collins' approach, Butler canvasses business and religious leaders and meets with resident activists.

Northwood Business District director Terri Murray met the Collins staff a year ago. She supervised a successful model block program a few years ago, rehabbing beautiful bungalows in drug-wracked neighborhoods. The homes were purchased by such low-income workers as inner-city schoolteachers.

"I wondered if we were too advanced to win a place in their program," Murray sighs. "We already have devoted activists and interested developers. But it would be nice to have the funds they have access to."

West Palm mayoral candidate state Rep. Lois Frankel met Butler at a charette in Pleasant City. Frankel was thrilled by the number of residents attending and their enthusiasm for poring over blueprints and landscape designs.

"I lobbied Bernice hard for Pleasant City," she says. "Its history is as rich as Overtown. Duke Ellington played in Pleasant City clubs. Residents remind you that you can still see how beautiful the blocks were if you imagine the buildings without boards on the windows and weeds in the yards."

Frankel can't resist a campaign kicker: "It's clear to me that an activist mayor will be a plus for a neighborhood when Collins makes its choice."

Butler plans to meet with West Palm's current mayor, Joel Daves, in the next two weeks. He's running for re-election.

"It's going to be a very exciting race where you never know what will happen, and we don't want to piss anyone off," she says with a laugh.

Lynda Edwards can be reached at or at (561) 820-2070.