It took 11 years, but Flagler Beach’s First Fridays event is about to get its first written set of policies, with a codified emphasis on a local-first approach. The City Commission, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency Board, will consider the policy at its meeting late this afternoon.
Flagler Beach’s First Fridays began in the middle of the last decade when a few shops in town decided to stay open late the first Friday of every month. Tom Gillen, the city’s recreations director then and still, suggested that the city offer a free movie that first Friday of the month. That eventually led to First Fridays, with vendors, music, food and that beach-side festival atmosphere that fills the air from 6 to 9 p.m. every first Friday, weather permitting.
“It’s gotten more and more successful,” Jane Mealy, who chairs the city commission, said this afternoon, ahead of the CRA meeting. “In the beginning only a couple hundred people would show up, now we get a thousand, and the businesses are busier on those nights than on other Friday nights so I guess it’s successful.”
About a dozen vendors line 2nd Street and more vendors set up in veterans Park. Organization of the event has gone through numerous hands—one-time CRA Director Caryn Miller, City Clerk Penny Overstreet, Public Works’ Kay McNeely, and now, Assistant City Clerk Jeanelle Pagano. And until now, whatever policies were applied were agreed-upon, verbal policies, Mealy said.
Pagano wants a more formal approach, even though the policy document being presented this afternoon doesn’t change the essence of what businesses may participate and according to what priorities.
Local businesses—shops, restaurants, mobile vendors—are given priority, based on their business tax receipt. The $25 participation fee they pay every month is $10 less than the fee required of vendors from outside the city. And non-food vendors based in the city pay no fee at all, nor do non-profits (such as the Rotary Club, a usual participant). Vendors from the rest of Flagler County are then eligible, based on space availability. Vendors, including those with amusement rides, are charged an electricity-usage fee. The policy also puts limits on the same type of vendors who may participate.
The proposed policy is silent regarding vendors from outside the county. “I don’t know how my fellow commissioners would feel but if somebody came from Georgia with something that nobody else is selling,” Mealy said, “we have to have that discussion see how they feel about that.”
Parts of First Fridays are paid for with Community Redevelopment Agency funds.
The Community Redevelopment Agency is essentially a subset of the local government that allows for a specified taxing district. CRAs are another way of referring to redevelopment zones. Most of the tax revenue from that district is required to be spent only in the district. In Palm Coast, for example, Town Center is a CRA. The theory is that an economically low-performing area can be revived with concentrated investment. First Fridays were conceived as part of that revival.
Flagler Beach’s redevelopment zone extends about 18 blocks north and south from the heart of town around State Road 100. Property tax revenue has been improving in the zone, from $91,000 in 2013 to a projected $184,000 this year (it was $133,000 last year). But most of that revenue–$104,000 this year—is pledged to debt servicing. This year, $40,000 is budgeted for a parks and lawn contract, another $22,000 for irrigation and landscaping, and $5,000 for First Fridays and other activities, according to the current budget.
When the CRA budget was in better shape, the city awarded small grants to businesses and homes to improve their appearances. “We haven’t been able to do that in a long time,” Mealy said. “We have some debts from the various projects we did while we were able to do projects, so much of what we bring in goes to that.”
And those distinctly steep landscaping and irrigation contracts.