In 1998, when Harold Mitchell received a $20,000 EPA small grant for the redevelopment of his neighborhood in Spartanburg, South Carolina, he was able to turn the money into more than $300 million in federal, state, local, private sector and philanthropic investments that have been leveraged to benefit the community. He called the project ReGenesis.
North Port St. Joe has already received almost $900,000 in funding to do the same – a strong start in emulating the ReGenesis model, Mitchell said.
“The big opportunity that they have and the commitment from the community and the elected officials – it’s kind of like you’ve got all of the ingredients for a successful outcome,” he said. “So now it’s about just guiding folks through that process, because a lot of the time with these federal grants and programs, they don’t offer a lot of guidance for how to go about their implementation.”
Last week, Mitchell and a team from the ReGenesis Institute, an organization helping to implement the ReGenesis model elsewhere in the country, spent three days in North Port St. Joe, meeting with community leaders and assessing the community’s needs.
Greeted by Pastor Chester Davis, the ReGenesis Team were led on a tour of North Port St. Joe, where Mitchell said, “as a peer-to-peer partner with the (Pioneer Bay) CDC, our team was able to come in and assess the community itself, the needs from housing, healthcare and infrastructure.”
Among the most frequent issues discussed were lacking affordable housing, dated or lacking infrastructure and concerns that uncontrolled redevelopment would increase prices, forcing members of the community to relocate.
Over the next several days, the ReGenesis team would meet with community leaders, including members of the Pioneer Bay Community Development Corporation and the North Port St. Joe Project Area Coalition, who have been spearheading the community’s redevelopment efforts and grant applications.
The EPA grants come after half a decade of discussions among involved parties, ignited by the development of the 2016 Master Plan for North Port St. Joe, a community-driven restructuring of the original 2009 document outlining the plan for the neighborhood’s redevelopment which they say failed to address the community’s needs.
The Port St. Joe mayor, city administrator, economic development director, state senator, state representative and county and city commissioners representing the area also met with ReGenesis Institute personnel – identifying particular needs.
Officials from the ReGenesis Institute said getting the entire community on the same page about how to implement the redevelopment plan is one of their top priorities in North Port St. Joe.
“One of the biggest issues is just the lack of communication,” said Catherine Pugh, who works with the ReGenesis Institute. “I think part of that is because, especially with the elected officials, they think that this is about city funding, and it’s not.”
“… When you’re an elected official and you don’t know where the money is going to come from, it is difficult to just jump in… I think we were able to show them that it’s not that difficult to get everybody on the same page when you understand where the possible funding sources can come in.”
In the coming weeks, the ReGenesis Institute hopes to continue meeting with officials ahead of the August Florida Brownfield Association meeting to be held in Port St. Joe.
Mitchell said that he is excited to continue working within the Port St. Joe community, saying that he felt the neighborhood’s redevelopment had the potential to act as a pilot project for sustainable redevelopment that could be replicated elsewhere in the country.
“A lot of folks are not in that position that this community is in. I mean, they have a plan. They have the commitment and support from both the city and county government. And Senator Ausley and (Representative) Jason Shoaf, that’s a rarity that you have all those partners at the table,” Mitchell said.
“… I feel as though there’s a pilot project in the making that we can scale up in other coastal communities around the country. And it takes that kind of commitment and true partnerships that we see in North Port St. Joe, because that trust and open communication that we see is not there in other places.”