Residents want youth center, workforce housing

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By Kellie Parkin

Workforce housing and a youth center are the two projects that Cedar Key could benefit the most from, according to many residents who gathered last week at the Cedar Key Community Redevelopment Agency workshop to discuss needs and offer suggestions of how to spend the remaining CRA funds.

Outlining specific criteria to follow, CRA Director Greg Lang recommended that potential projects or programs should promote, protect or enhance the community’s values, offer long term benefits and be sustainable.  “Sustainability requires simultaneously meeting environmental, economic and community needs,” Lang said. “This idea fits into our values – we do a lot of this already in Cedar Key.” Youth Center Bill Delaino, representing the citizen-based Youth and Recreation Advisory Committee, proposed designing and implementing a youth program that would also serve adults. “The fitness level and the health and well-being of our citizens is very important. This would enhance the quality of life for youth, adults and seniors,” he said. “We’ve never had a program like this in Cedar Key.” Most communities have some sort of youth program, whether big or small, he said.  The Cedar Key Youth and Recreational Program would need dedicated space, Delaino said. After exploring many options, the committee determined that the best solution would be to build a 5,000 square foot addition to the Community Center. “We could probably build it for $500,000.” Delaino said that most likely the program would never be entirely financially self-sustaining. He said there is a plan to implement some programs that have a minimal fee for users. To get the Youth Center up and running with the new building and the first year salary of a director, the project would require $550,000 to $650,000 of the CRA funds, Delaino said.  The CRA expects to have roughly $1.2 million to $1.4 million after the Phase II Streets and Utilities project is complete, according to Lang. “We’ll have a better idea of that number once the project goes to bid.”  Workforce Housing Cedar Key currently has 18 public housing units on 34 lots, allowing for more growth, Lang said. “Affordable housing has been on the (CRA) list for a long time,” he said. “If the city approached it cautiously – starting with one block – it could be affordable.”  Lang said that other funding sources are available to help with the costs. “There’s funding via Washington right now and we could also look to the Levy County Housing Authority.” Workforce housing would give people who fill vital roles in the community, such as teachers and police officers, a chance to live on the island.  Mayor Sue Colson said that many city employees also commute or live on family land. “We’re very close to losing the fabric of our city,” she said. “That’s not a good thing.”   Other suggestions made at the workshop included improving the ramp and surrounding area at the Shell Pile site, a project that Lang said may be feasible through outside grants. Another idea was to make extra bond payments – a move in which it is unclear how advantageous it would be, Lang said. The CRA bond payment is approximately $684,000 per year, and extra payments will not lessen the interest rate or shorten the remaining length of the loan. “Our obligation to pay back our debt is long term,” Lang said. “So we need to ask, ‘Are there long term benefits to the project?’” Lang also noted that some projects may be possible with little or no CRA funding. “We’re very successful at partnering,” he said. “There are some projects we’ve been able to accomplish without any CRA funds.” The CRA Board will review the workshop topics at the next meeting Tuesday, Dec. 1 at 6 p.m. at City Hall.