Representatives of River Park neighborhood talk with Naples officials about redevelopment
Residents of Naples’ only low-income minority community are vowing to "make as much noise as has ever been made in this town" regarding the concern the city has long ignored the needs of the River Park neighborhood.
Bolstered by the support of the Urban League of Greater Miami and the national NAACP organization, River Park residents are calling for widespanning changes in how the city governs the neighborhood, including more community outreach and an increase in city redevelopment spending.
"We’re going t o have to do more than we’ve ever done," said Willie Anthony, head of the newly formed River Park neighborhood association that met Tuesday night. "I think we can do it. I feel better about my neighborhood and my neighbors than I have in an awful long time."
Residents met individually Tuesday with Mayor Bill Barnett, Vice-Mayor Linda Penniman and City Council members Doug Finlay and Sam Saad to express concerns about a lack of city redevelopment spending in River Park.
Also Tuesday, residents met with the heads of the economic development branches of the Miami Urban League and a national representative of the NAACP to discuss, among other issues, how they can persuade the council to follow through on a renewed effort to spend money for projects in the neighborhood.
"Now here is an opportunity for this community to say enough is enough," said Marvin Owens, the NAACP’s senior directo! r of economic programs. "There seems to be this lack of attention being given to a community of people who are part of the larger growth and development of Naples, but this community seems to be overlooked."
Owens said he was alerted to River Park issues by Collier County NAACP President Harold Weeks.
The council last month agreed to add $150,000 to next year’s budget after residents complained that not enough city redevelopment money was being spent in the River Park neighborhood east of Goodlette-Frank Road on Fifth Avenue North.
Residents said they will come up with a list of neighborhood initiatives at a community meeting next week and present it to the city in October.
The task force that led to the creation of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency said River Park was Naples’ "most important residential redevelopment area" in 1992. But the city hasn’t spent money collected from the special taxing district in the River Park neighborhood in a decade. The historically segregated neighborhood, where about 90 percent of the city’s black residents live, has a median income of about $23,300, according to census estimates. Consultants who studied River Park in 1999 and 2006 suggested affordable housing initiatives, but the city hasn’t taken part in an affordable housing project since the mid-1990s.
Some city officials, including Barnett, have described the addition of affordable housing in the city as an impossibility because of the area’s high land values.
"We need to make sure the resources allocated for affordable housing gets placed here, to keep it affordable," Owens said.
Penniman, who supports new spending for the neighborhood, said the community has earned the council’s attention.
"We’re at a sweet spot th! at we haven’t been in before," Penniman said. "We’ve cracked this nut open and it’s rotten inside."
"Now is the time to have a plan."