CRA won’t change land-for-cash deal with Big Bend Cares

John Seay told the CRA board there was no need to have any kind of deal with Big Bend Cares.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook staff writer

Outgoing city commissioner Nancy Miller might not have known it at the time, but her statement just before the Community Redevelopment Agency decided not to sell a parcel of land back to Big Bend Cares resonated with Southside residents who opposed the original land-for-cash deal.

“Our job is to find what is the best use for the community,” Miller said. “What we really want to hear is ‘what do you want to do with this property.’ “

Southside residents who attended the meeting last week seemingly have plenty of ideas that they would like to discuss with the CRA staff. The board voted unanimously (4-0) to deny a request from Big Bend Cares that the CRA sell back 1.6 acres of land adjacent to Care Point Health and Wellness Center at the intersection of Magnolia Drive and South Monroe Street.

“Let the people come forward and say what they want,” said Dale Landry, former president of the Tallahassee branch of the NAACP. “Let the people make that call.

“Let them come to the table.”

In the original deal the CRA gave Big Bend Cares $1.5 million to assist with construction of the $15 million state-of-the-art building. The CRA drew fire from residents who objected to it. They contend that clinics such as Bond was doing a good enough job helping Southside residents manage their healthcare.

Big Bend Cares’ request to change the deal reignited some of the resentment over the health facility being funded by tax dollars. However, the overwhelming sentiment from the board was that there was no need to modify the deal just because Big Bend Cares requested it.

The Big Bend Cares request was brought before the CRA board although its citizen advisory committee rejected it following a recommendation for approval by staff.

“It’s a cruel example of bait and switch” said William Tucker in his comments before the board.

At the time of the agreement between the CRA and Big Bend Cares in 2015, the property was worth $510,000. That’s the amount that Big Bend Cares was willing to pay to retake the land, although it was recently appraised at $350,000.

CRA director Roxanne Manning said she was willing to go along with staff recommendation and grant the request. But when questioned by Commissioner Curtis Richardson, she said it will take 18 to 19 years before the property could possibly be valued at the price Big Bend Cares wanted to pay.

Rob Renzi, CEO of Big Bend Cares sat through the meeting with Don Taylor, chairman of the Care Point’s board. Neither men spoke before the board and they left City Hall immediately after the decision without comment.

“We don’t feel currently that we have adequate information to make that decision,” said Gil Ziffer, another outgoing commissioner. “Let’s give ourselves a little bit of time here to figure out what can be done.”

Before Big Bend Cares requested changing the deal, the CRA considered using the land off Wallis Street for a Farmer’s Market, but CRA director Roxanne Manning said those plans were scrapped because there is already one in the Bond community about a mile west of the property.

Manning also disclosed that whatever is built on the property has to meet specifications outlined by Big Bend Cares in the original deal.

That irritated resident John Seay just as much as the request by Big Bend Cares.

“The fact that there is a farmer’s market on the Southside does not negate using the land for other purposes that benefit the Southside,” said Seay. “Not an outside non-profit for profit.

“If the CRA was so interested in the health of the Southside why didn’t they give the funds to the existing clinics.”