Belle Glade to set new direction for Gove site redevelopment

County SWA grant will help launch new effort

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BELLE GLADE — The Belle Glade City Commission will have a special meeting on Monday night, Nov. 30, at city hall, 110 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. W. Convening at 5:30 p.m., the meeting’s purpose will be to address and take action on the following items of business:
• Final budget relating to fiscal year 2019-2020 (which ended Sept. 30);
• Request for Proposals No. 04-2020, which is a re-bidding for the former Gove Elementary School property development; and
• Adoption of resolution relating to Florida Department of Transportation funding for various roadways in the city.

Good news about Gove site
City officials received some welcome news Tuesday afternoon from West Palm Beach when the Palm Beach County Board of Commissioners, sitting as the Solid Waste Authority board, voted to award a 2021 Blighted and Distressed Property Cleanup Program grant of $120,465 to the City of Belle Glade for the demolition of the abandoned and now unusable portable classrooms on the campus.

On Oct. 28, in another special meeting that was called to examine the results of the previous advertisement for bids in response to this RFP, the Belle Glade commissioners had voted unanimously to reject the one bid that was received, from a firm known as Community Partners.

Two commissioners were absent from that meeting, but Mayor Steve Wilson, Vice Mayor Clara Ross Wilkerson and Commissioner Johnny Burroughs Jr. had a thorough discussion and interaction with nearby residents in talks about how the city should proceed with the redevelopment of the 10.5-acre site donated by the Palm Beach County School District. They were delighted with the feedback from residents about their intentions for the site, which was given to the city for the express purpose of building affordable “workforce housing” for Glades area residents.

At that meeting, the mayor and Burroughs expressed disappointment that only one company had presented a proposal, even after city staff had produced a video of City Manager Lomax Harrelle and the mayor walking around the sprawling site back in September, chatting up the city’s plans to make it an upscale housing development that would attract middle-class home buyers.

One of the speakers during public comment was a local developer who said the RFP’s parameters were too constricted, leading to the city getting just a single response. He suggested the commission advertise a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) instead of an RFP so as to widen the restrictions and accept mixed-use plans for the land, to include rental housing and some commercial space.

When the video was made, Harrelle and Mayor Wilson had high hopes of being able to attract a local developer who would hire local tradespeople to do the project. Wilson said, “We are hoping that it’s something that we’ve never seen before in Belle Glade. I have high hopes that there will be a nice clubhouse, that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

Harrelle stressed that the city was seeking responses from high-quality builders — “developers with a proven track record, Florida-based, that we can encourage to hire local people during the project, purchase from the local businesspeople here in the area. It’s very, very important as far as the purchasing and employment opportunities. It’s very important for the commission, and that’s one of the things that we’re looking for. Also — someone that’s familiar with working on the muck soil and the conditions here in the Glades area.”

But only one group mounted the RFP and gave the city a plan — which was predominantly single-family homes that would cost more than city officials would like, so the commissioners now will discuss and, perhaps, decide next week how to craft a new RFP or RFQ that will draw a wider mix of ideas. The meeting agenda says it will be an RFP.

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