By Estella R. Fullmer
For Hometown News
NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- Several buildings have been targeted by the Economic Development Advisory Board for a makeover with a new CRA plan the city is cooking up.
Discussion in Wednesday's board meeting centered around the Community Redevelopment Agency plan that expires in 2015 and plans for a new CRA. A map of areas for improvement has been drawn up from a recent "blight study," which includes areas of New Smyrna Beach, Edgewater and Oak Hill.
City Manager Pam Brangaccio stressed the city is "not going to go in and demolish properties. This new CRA opens up improvement opportunities."
The study determined the "blighted" areas based on three factors: high crime determined by the increase in police activity in those areas; 58 percent of the code enforcement cases were from those areas; and a decrease in overall property values in those areas. U.S. 1 south of Canal Street was the main area cited in the study and already has projects underway that are receiving some funding through CRA grants, such as the Canal Street Center and 426 Canal St., which will likely be commercial office space when complete. Water and sewer service in Oak Hill, a detriment to economic development in the past, also is under consideration.
A representative from the Southeast Volusia Chamber of Commerce presented its 2013 Program of Work for improvements. Jake Pendergast highlighted several items the chamber is developing to stimulate growth in the area.
The chamber plans to increase the number of businesses by 2 percent, provide information to members of what is going on in the business community, conduct "lunch and learn" sessions between New Smyrna, Edgewater and Oak Hill, conduct a business survey to find out what business owners' concerns are among members and non-members. They also are considering having a rapid response team to respond to problems business owners face in the community and are looking into developing a bank consortium to promote small business loans.
"We have been working with city staff and Realtors to develop the I-95, airport and U.S. 1 areas," Mr. Pendergast said. "We are already working with the Daytona airport for more direct flights and are trying to get the new spaceport to come to Oak Hill, which would be a big boon for that area."
In other business, the board heard a report from Tim Hamby, executive director of the Southeast Volusia Advertising Authority, who is developing a marketing plan to bring in more tourists, home owners and businesses to New Smyrna, Edgewater and Oak Hill. Hamby suggested a partnership between the city, county and authority to pool resources and come up with an effective overall marketing plan.
"The challenge is for everyone not to feel that every single point in the plan has to be completed," Mr. Hamby urged. "Let's do what makes sense -- what is reasonable." Mr. Hamby cited the need for better communication between the city and the county and the community.
Mr. Hamby also said some aspects of the proposed plan may not be right for a shared effort, such as shared creative services and social media services. "We have about $2 million in the operating budget to work with here and put about $600,000 in media during a year. We're placing our own media, so we save right off the top doing it in-house," Mr. Hamby said.
He suggested using freelancers in creative services is a better use of resources. "These are talented people with a low overhead," he said.
Mr. Hamby stressed the city needs to "have a marketing plan that matches your media." The plan should include how the city and county are going to work together to reach goals.
Ideas under consideration are an online direct hotel booking platform, which could track sales and other statistics and allow the consumer to just click on one site to book their rooms rather than going through Travelocity, Priceline and similar sites. They also are considering coupon booklets for all of Volusia County attractions and destinations to promote the county and also a visitor's center on Interstate 95.
Mr. Hamby suggested the city needs to "collect information, analyze it and base your plans on that information." He also pointed out that most people outside of the area have never heard of New Smyrna Beach, but nearly all know about Daytona Beach. He said the target audience between New Smyrna and Daytona has two vastly different demographics; so sharing every aspect of a marketing plan would not be feasible.
"We have our own assets and when people find them, they love them," Mr. Hamby said about New Smyrna Beach. "Daytona can help us get that recognition. We are a destination worthy of more than just a day out at the beach -- we are worthy of extended stays."