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Delray Beach CRA assures city: We're busy

CRA covers about 20 percent of Delray Beach

DELRAY BEACH - It has been criticized for neglecting the West Atlantic Avenue Corridor and draining taxpayers' dollars.

The Community Redevelopment Agency disagrees with its critics, and recently presented its case during an almost two-hour presentation.

Look at West Atlantic Avenue, they said. A quick drive reveals a series of empty lots and blighted buildings, but you can't see the millions the CRA has invested in acquiring property.

"The general populous doesn't really understand what the CRA does for us," Mayor Woodie McDuffie said after the recent workshop meeting with the CRA. "They basically have a public relations issue to deal with. The CRA needs to market itself and become more visible in the community."

The CRA has more than 27 different projects in the CRA area, most of them along West Atlantic Avenue and its surrounding neighborhoods, said Executive Director Diane Colonna.

The CRA encompasses an area of about 2,000 acres, or 20 percent of the city in the heart of Delray Beach, from Interstate 95 to the beach along Atlantic Avenue, south to 10th Street and north along Swinton Avenue to Boynton Beach.

The agency's plans are ambitious, part of a master plan that has already transformed East Atlantic Avenue. Now, the CRA wants to tackle the second part of Atlantic Avenue and has spent millions acquiring property in its surrounding neighborhoods, some of which the Community Land Trust will turn into affordable and workforce housing.

The plan also needs a major infusion of private investment. But in a sluggish economy when banks are hesitant to lend the CRA is having a hard time to finding developers.

It's a process expected to take years. And public perception isn't always patient, said Frank Schnidman, director of Center for Urban Redevelopment Education at Florida Atlantic University.

"To look at redevelopment in a short-term basis makes you lose perspective of the vision," said Schnidman, who tracks the work of CRA agencies in Florida. "Redevelopment takes years. A 12-month delay is nothing when it comes to enhancing the quality of life in a neighborhood."

One way to change public perception is to complete the "Gateway" project, officials said.

For years the CRA has talked about connecting East and West Atlantic Avenue into a seamless downtown with an attention-grabbing entry, known as the "Gateway" project at West Atlantic Avenue and I-95.

The mammoth 30-feet columns and landscaped area would tell visitors they had arrived at someplace special: Downtown Delray Beach. The first part of the project -- mostly landscaping -- is almost complete, but officials told the CRA to charge ahead with the rest.

"If we demonstrate we're confident in this project," said Commissioner Gary Eliopoulos, "it demonstrates a commitment that we believe this neighborhood is worth investing in, and that maybe will attract other investors as well."

Maria Herrera can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or 561-243-6544.

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