The Dade County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) met Monday in an Administrative Building locked up for Martin Luther King Day, though little at the Jan. 20 meeting seemed pressing enough to defy the nationally decreed solemnities. Notable among the proceedings was a discussion of the future of the Dade County Chamber of Commerce.
There is not to be one, said IDA Director William Back; instead, there is to be an "Alliance for Dade," which with any luck will fill the same function.
"Why do we have two groups?" asked County Attorney Robin Rogers. "Why doesn’t your group become the chamber?"
Because nobody wants to be the chamber, explained Back. “When you talk to people in Dade County, there’s not a lot of fondness for the idea of a chamber," he said. Only one person who'd ever had anything to do with the Dade Chamber is willing to have any connection with it now, said Back.
Back described his and Dade Deputy County Clerk Carey Anderson's efforts to jumpstart a replacement entity for the defunct chamber, which the city of Trenton stopped funding last year when it had effectively stopped meeting for consistent lack of a quorum, and after it had allowed its legal status as a nonprofit corporation to lapse. (The Dade County government had stopped funding the C of C years before, when it started funding a full-time director for the IDA.)
Now, said Back, he and Ms. Anderson have found some 30 enthusiastic prospective Alliance members and will forthwith step back and let the volunteers take over the new civic group.
"Whatever you call it, it needs to be searchable as the chamber," said board member Evan Stone. Chambers of commerce are where people and companies go to find about business in an area, he said, so: “The rest of the world needs to know that’s the chamber.”
That shouldn't be a problem, said Back. “We’ll probably have half a dozen URLs,” he said.
What's the status of the chamber now? asked IDA board member, and former director, Peter Cervelli, and what happens if someone calls it? C of C employee Kat Fox answers the phone, said Back. He said the chamber is still functional at the visitors center level, and attorney Rogers, who owns the building on the Trenton square where the chamber is now housed, confirmed the chamber is paying its rent.
Theoretically, said Cervelli, a lot of local businesses were paying dues to the C of C. What happens to those?
No list of such companies has turned up, said Back. “We’re starting from scratch,” he said. Under its new corporate structure, he said, the Alliance must collect some kind of dues from its members, but just how that will be done is still up for discussion. Also: "It may be the recipient of public funds in the future but it isn’t right now," said Back.
In other business, Back reported that Dade Industrial Park manufacturer Gill was under contract to be sold to multiple buyers. "Gill has had its financial problems and it’s not surprising that it’s to be sold," he said. No buildings are on the market as a result, he said. But as far as finding a buyer for the nearly-new Fred's store on South Main, abandoned since the discount store chain went belly-up last year, that's not happening any time sooner, either, said Back.
Back reminded IDA members of two important upcoming meetings, the second-ever pan-Dade joint meeting of the Trenton City Commission, Dade County Commission, IDA and Dade Water Authority is at 6 p.m. on March 26; and more immediately, the public hearing for Dade's landmark zoning ordinance is this Thursday evening, 6 p.m. on Jan. 30. Both of those meetings will be held in the Administrative Building.
"Basically it’s something that you’ve all agreed upon?” asked Cervelli of the zoning ordinance.
Attorney Rogers mumbled not-so-much noises and Dade District 4 Commissioner Allan Bradford, who was sitting in on the IDA meeting, replied: “There’s one huge disagreement.” Bradford presumably referred to setback rules for chicken houses that were added after the citizens committee assigned to come up with the zoning ordinance had finished with it, and before it was presented at a Dade County Commission meeting.
The ordinance if adopted would set rules for industries wishing to relocate in Dade.
“Perhaps, hopefully, possibly, projects undertaken by the IDA would be exempt," suggested Back. IDA's reason for existence, after all, is to induce industries to relocate to Dade. IDA's methods for doing so involve furnishing corporations free land, becoming their titular landlord or the legal owner of their assets in order to spare them real estate or ad valorem taxes, and arranging tax credits or even cash handouts from the state for them. By contrast, the new ordinance requires companies to cough up application fees for special use permits and then to defend their case for setting up in Dade at public hearings.
Cervelli said as written the ordinance covers all industry whether or not the IDA is involved.
Back reported to the board that a nonprofit group that had earlier been interested in buying a piece of property at the back of the industrial park, behind Vanguard, no longer was. “Those people appear to have faded away, he said.” He said the acreage in question was a beautiful riverside piece of land that would be valuable recreationally. Cervelli said the choices were to sell it or donate it as parkland to the county. “Obviously, the better choice is to make some money on it,” he said. But if no one was buying, why not give it to the county? No action was taken.
Another subject for discussion was the wall IDA built for Primary Health Care as a sound barrier against truck traffic coming to the new Vanguard plant. The wall had given way during recent high winds and needed repair or removal, he said, but PHC wasn't worried about the truck noise anyway. “They’re coming to feel it really doesn’t make much difference,” said Back. He said IDA had no obligation to maintain the fence, which he said had been improperly engineered. “I’m surprised it didn’t fall over before,” he said. Again, no action was taken.
The next IDA meeg is at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 17.