BALANCE SHEET BLOG – HOLLYWOOD, FL


Downtown Housekeeping
October 18, 2011, 5:13 PM
Filed under: CRA Districts, Downtown

Why does downtown look so bleak?

The obvious answer is “Way too many boarded up stores.”  But there are secondary problems as well.  Too much litter, graffiti and shabbiness, panhandling and loitering are all concerns that create an uninviting environment.  The CRA is betting that addressing the secondary problems will make it easier to recruit new business to the empty stores.  We’ll see.

One of the strategies the former city manager used to balance the budget was to divert as much CRA money as possible into the over-spent General Fund.  As part of this project, the Downtown CRA has been paying the City’s General Fund some $187,000 annually and supposedly getting in return “enhanced services” to clean up downtown. Despite these enhanced services, downtown remains essentially shabby. The once lush landscaping is littered with cigarette butts, crumpled papers, and bits of plastic.  Earlier this month, the CRA made the decision to restructure its “enhanced services,” since the annual $187,000 wasn’t working.  Enter Block By Block, a national company active in 39 cities across the country.

In a word, it’s privatization.  We’re skeptical, as are many of you, about turning over city functions to private concerns.  At the same time, if a city is not able to perform satisfactorily, other approaches must be explored. Fortunately, in this case, there will be no pink slips for city employees.  Chuck Ellis, the City’s Parks Director has informed us:  “There are no layoffs due to the Block by Block services.  Our staff will continue to pick up the trash and oversee the median maintenance.”

Instead of paying the City $187,000, the CRA will pay $153,000 to Block by Block to pick up litter, clean out tree wells, paint, mulch, power-wash sidewalks, and perform other maintenance tasks. In addition, Block by Block will assist with “quality of life” issues like panhandling and loitering. Its mode of operation is to coordinate its work closely with a city’s regular services so as to augment but not replace them.  This is a new approach for Hollywood.  If it doesn’t work, the CRA can terminate the contract.

With this company, the CRA expects to get the full-time services of four workers to be hired and supervised by Block By Block.  CRA staff has informed us that qualified Hollywood residents will receive priority in hiring. To start, these workers will be scheduled from 7 AM – 3 PM, but their hours may be changed as needed.   They will wear a uniform that identifies them as “Hollywood Ambassadors.”

We’re supposed to get a cleaner, snappier downtown.  No more cigarette butts in the tree planters.  No more plastic bottles in the gutters.  No more graffiti and dirty sidewalks. And above all, a more welcoming environment for new business as well as residents and visitors.  Let’s hope so!  Time will tell.


18 Comments

Another experiment in Downtown.
Parking changes ahead in Hollywood

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/broward/fl-hollywood-free-parking-20111023,0,6964194.story

If there was no CRA in downtown and the downtown district property owners would pay their fair share for the city services they receive I would support free parking in the area after 5 PM.
But according to 2010 CRA budget the downtown district only pays 15.04% for the services they receive from the city. The rest of the property taxes get transferred from the city’s general fund to CRA coffers for more development. Where do I get these numbers? Page 7 of 2010 CRA budget.

http://www.hollywoodcra.org/pdf/CRA_AnnualReport2010.pdf

It clearly states that the frozen value of the downtown district created in 1979 is $103,167,427 the 2010 value is $685,838,130 a difference of $582,670,703. (Frozen value is the 1979 value of the DT district that the city can keep the rest goes to CRA, this is called TIF “tax increment financing”)) So the city can only keep the taxes on the 103 million the taxes on the 582 million get transferred to CRA fund from the general fund. BUT the city continues to provide 100% of services to the downtown CRA district. And WE get 11% tax hike.
Now, if and only if the CRA where to be shut down and the ALL downtown property taxes where to STAY in the general fund so the city can pay the bills then and only then the residents and commissioners should support free parking downtown.

Until that happens I believe the CRA money should reimburse the city for lost revenue. WE CANNOT pay for your bills anymore downtown.

The difference of the frozen value of 1979 with 2010 (current) value if the CRA DT district is $582,670,703.00. With a 7.4479 millage rate it comes to $4,339,673.13.
These 4 million dollars will get transferred from Hollywood general fund to the CRA fund.
What will they do with these 4 million dollars?

Comment by Jon Doe

What downtown needs is an anchor, why not build a Muvivo theater? Movies draw crowds who in turn eat at restaurants before and after a movie. Look at Cityplace in West Palm Beach, it use to be a slum, boarded up stores and restaurants, now it’s a vibrant and exciting place to eat, shop, and catch a movie or the Improv. Always crowded up there.

Comment by Jimmy Holsen

As I understand this, the city will forgo $187,000 in revenue (from CRA) without any offsetting personnel reductions. This is hardly “outsourcing”. The CRA may have saved some money but overall, city expenditures have increased. Why should we accept sub-standard services from the city and pay an outside company to do the same job? Shouldn’t it be one or the other?

Comment by Tim Curtin

Does anyone, except me, have a sense that the city is broken and doesn’t seem to be capable to make progress with the current bunch of city commissioners. We must be a very stupid bunch of residents because we always seem to be looking to the same elected officials to make better what they already have made worse. Our commissioners always seem to be able to spend more money and get poorer and poorer results. Is it time to “Occupy Hollywood?”

Comment by Paul Klein

It is not just downtown-I’ve called repeatedly about the medians on Hollywood blvd west of 95. Weeds and overgrown grass! Again, a poor sight for those entering our city from the west!
Maybe the Public Works director and the mayor and commissioners should look beyound downtown and the beach.

Comment by bill

Bill,
You are 100% correct.

Comment by Balance Sheet Blog

We would like to thank our readers for their comments which have been helpful in clarifying the results we want to see from the Block By Block contract: 1) a noticeably cleaner, more inviting downtown, and 2) an increase in new businesses downtown that actually serve the needs of Hollywood residents. Absent these two results, Block By Block would not be a good use of money and it may be that the Downtown CRA itself will need to call it quits.

The CRA has hired Block By Block based on the premise that business recruitment has stalled because of the downtown appearance. This premise will now be put to the test. We, like many others, question whether this housekeeping initiative can accomplish the two essential goals but we’re not willing to condemn the effort before it even begins. As for the hours (7-3PM), those can always be changed and hopefully will be as conditions warrant.

Comment by Balance Sheet Blog

Let me tell you my experience in Fort Lauderdale this weekend. I went to a charity event for a few hours near the Broward Center and spent an entire day. Parking was simple. I’ve been there many times and knew what to expect. I was panhandled once but very politely. Just a shake of my head and the person moved on. It was an event that all the participants enjoyed. It was fun, well organized, activities all day, quality vendors, great music, celebrity guests, and a parade. There was a reasonable police presence, public works, and volunteers from the event to monitor all aspects. Moments after the parade was finished, cleaning crews descended on the park, stage was brought down and packed, roads were opened. The crowd and myself headed straight to the many restaurants downtown to keep the party going a little longer. On the way back to the car – could not even tell there had been thousands of people in the park that day. Arrived at 10:00, left at nearly 4:00, had a great time and spent money. I have also attended Christmas on Las Olas, The Las Olas Art Festival, Boat Parade with it’s new path on the New River, and other events as well as just a night out several times this year. Hollywood is closer to me but not nearly as enjoyable. It takes money no doubt to run an event like this so flawlessly but this little get together had 1,000 participants and at least that many spectators. Unless you have a South Beach or Lincoln Rd that drawls people just because of the people that go, you need a constant stream of events. Downtown used to have a Public Works person who drove a vacuum truck with a nozzle that cleaned the streets and planters. It only took a few hours each week. How about we hire that guy back. Having “ambassadors” during the day when the activity is at night…. just a silly waste.

Comment by Bob Carlson

It’s obvious duplication, and a canard to maintain that it’s really a savings. To make matters worse, Block by Block has no authority to remove anyone.

But the real problem is that instead of insisting that the City is held accountable for the $187,000 that’s been paid for some time, the “solution” is to spend more needlessly.

Either City workers do the job, or an outside company does. This ill thought out plan saddles us with both costs. Remember that “CRA money” is simply tax receipts that stay in a defined area instead of going into the starving general fund.

What the City has needed for years is expert planning carried out by qualified entities, whether they be public or private.

Comment by Charlotte Greenbarg

Charlotte,
We think there is a misunderstanding here. The CRA was paying the money to the general fund, but the work they were paying for wasn’t getting done. The payment was supposed to cover additional services above the level of service the rest of the city gets. Now, the city will continue to provide downtown the same type of service it provides citywide, and the additional services will come from Block By Block.

No city workers will be fired as it seems none were actually hired to do the work that Block by Block will do. So it is not a double expenditure for additional services, it is the same money, only less of it, that will go to Block by Block.

We agree with your statement “What the City has needed for years is expert planning carried out by qualified entities, whether they be public or private.”

Comment by Balance Sheet Blog

The Balance Sheet has offered their opinion on the matter, take a look at a differing perspective over at the Hollywood Whistle Blower.

http://cohblwr.blogspot.com

Comment by The Hollywood Whistle Blower

Do we really need these out of town boy scouts to help the little ole ladies across the street? The news article pointed out that they seen this occur in South Miami. Another $153,000 wasted by the CRA. This money would have been better spent on CODE OFFICERS!!

Comment by Pete Brewer

So the CRA board/ city commissioners decided to hire a private company that employees private citizens to help the downtown area with panhandlers. Like the previous poster said they do not even have the right to ask for identification, how are they going to be able to do anything? The CRA use to pay 187 thousand for extra police officers now they are paying 150 thousand for regular citizens. So they saved 37 thousand. But they gave up the authority those extra employees had to ID and arrest. Sorry I do not see the benefit.
The city already employees people to collect the trash, already has police officers to enforce the law why are they spending more money?

Comment by Abraham Evert

residents and tourist alike would frequent downtown Hollywood if the restaurants served better food. the few merchants who manage to stay open could better display their merchandize. many parts of this country have phenominal stores existing in shabbier neighborhoods than ours. we have little to offer to attract either residents or tourists. our few good local eateries are too expensive for regular eating out. the stores also are expensive.

Comment by linda ball

You and I are responsible for the litter on our sidewalks and swales and the graffiti on our fences and walls, so why don’t downtown landlords and tenants have the same responsibilities? Why isn’t the “downtown association”, not the CRA or the City, paying the $153,000? Why are we always throwing good money after bad?

Comment by James Bullock

Is anyone surprised that the “downtown” is shabby. I cannot remember when it wasn’t. Does anyone remember a beautiful downtown? It seems to me that none of the stores in the downtown area sell anything that I, and many others, want to buy.

It seems to me that the people who should be fired are the commissioners and the people who are in charge of the CRA.
What is needed is new blood and not more of the same old.

Comment by Paul Klein

CRA. The 187 k for enhanced services is peanuts. They paid the 187k to enhance policing.
Now for the ambassadors. What are they going to do? Tell a prostitute or a homeless person to leave the area? With what authority? Ask them for identification? With what authority? They can end up getting sued and the city can get sued. We still have civil rights, even in Hollywood.
So the ambassadors are actually maintenance personnel. Basically Hollywood is privatizing maintenance The 4 will be 6 then 8 then 10 and then 20. At the same time they will not hire anymore at public works and eventually Block by Block takes over. I have no problem with privatization. But I like to hear comments regarding Waste Pro.
Today AM 610 was making fun of Hollywood and the ambassadors. Great going, we became the joke of South Florida.
Now we have 2 cities in Hollywood, the Beach and Downtown CRA districts and the greater Hollywood.
The problem is that Hollywood is paying for the CRA district services. Then we also give them (the CRA) millions every year to experiment with “ambassadors” and forgiving loans to restaurant owners and developers.

Comment by Jon

Hmmm. We are providing them office space , radios, vehicles , their bid contains over $3 per employee per hour for ‘overhead’ , and this benefits the city how ? Is not the underlying cause of the blight downtown, a continually failed model of more bars and resturants which operate primarily at night ( not 7a-3p)? Does the lack of effective efforts at cleaning up the REST of the CRA outside the 3 blocks that compose the downtown area have anything to do with the problems that downtown AND the residents of the area have to endure? Are these ‘ambassadors ‘ the same as the ones who we pay to sit aboard empty trolleys ? Perhaps a real economic model and support for the surrounding neighborhood(s) would yield better results !

Comment by Jeff Brodeur




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