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New Hope for Newtown

By Hannah Wallace June 30, 2009

Lorna Alston, 53, came to the City of Sarasota in May as general manager of the North Sarasota Redevelopment Division, where she is charged with overseeing strategies to attract businesses to Newtown. For the past four years, she has coordinated the East Tampa Economic and Urban Development Division, the second largest community redevelopment agency in the nation. In 2008, she was secretary and treasurer of the Florida Brownfields Association. A former banker she served as Vice President Community Reinvestment Act / Loan Review Compliance Officer for BB&T Bank in St. Petersburg. We caught up with her after two weeks on the job.

What do you bring to community redevelopment from your banking background? The ability to analyze the finances for any kind of development. If someone brings something to the table, I’m able to see if it’s a viable project, if there are financial gaps in the process, and sometimes I’m able to help them work their finances to put a better package together. What I’ve found is they know what they want to do, but understanding the financing behind it becomes the critical piece of putting the deal together. It’s almost like a precursor to going to the bank—I know what the bank is looking for.

What special challenges does Newtown face? I flip it around and look at opportunities: retooling ourselves for this economy, job training, getting our residents in place and trained for the green initiatives that are to come, so when the economy turns around are they properly skilled.

How will you accomplish that? I am waiting to hear how they will want me to do that. I can only draw from my prior experience, primarily through brownfield redevelopment in Tampa. We got numerous federal grants through the EPA, to assess the properties to determine if there was in fact contamination. In the instances where there was not, we were able to develop the properties into viable businesses. Newtown already has a storefront façade program; we give microgrants to property owners to improve their properties, and there have been a couple of success stories already. By the end of July, you’ll see even more progress on that corridor from 301 to

Osprey Avenue
.

Any ideas for the brownfield property off U.S. 301 and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard where WalMart was proposed to go? We know that we have to do something; it’s a matter of getting the community consensus. My first personal priority is to get to know the community, not only on the community activist level, but the business level, the Chamber of Commerce level, and seeing how they all play together, I’m looking forward to seeing how we can create some kind of collaboration with the universities. 

 

Describe your management style.  Very open ended in terms of a listener, an engager, and more team oriented as opposed to downward, ‘I’m the boss.’ “I have to add that, in any success that I do have, I preface it on the fact that the Lord is my guide in the whole process. There is a spirituality to me that governs my style.” 

 

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