Kelley Klepper Featured in “Redevelopment Works” Podcast on COVID-19 and Redevelopment Planning
About This Episode
Amber Hughes, executive director of the Florida Redevelopment Association, interviewed Kimley-Horn’s Kelley Klepper, AICP, on the Redevelopment Works podcast to discuss the future of redevelopment amid COVID-19. Listen to the episode to hear from a seasoned planner on the impacts of coronavirus on local economies and takeaways for continued growth.
Read the Transcript
Narrator: Welcome to the redevelopment works podcast, a program full of information, hot topics, and best practices for Florida’s redevelopment professionals. Here’s your host and FRA executive director, Amber Hughes.
Amber Hughes: Hello, and welcome back to the Redevelopment Works podcast. I am Amber Hughes, the new executive director for the Florida redevelopment association. I’m excited to be with you here all today as this is my first podcast episode, since taking the reigns as the new ED for FRA. Our former executive director, Carol Westmoreland is now enjoying retirement, as you all know, but she did such an amazing job developing this podcast series and I’m thrilled to continue to provide fresh content and insights into the world of redevelopment. Today’s episode is unique as we will be exploring the impacts of the Coronavirus and how, now more than ever, redevelopment is essential, not only to our local economies, but to our entire state’s growth. It is my honor to welcome our guest speaker today. Kelley Klepper. Kelley is a vice president and senior project manager for Kimley-Horn, a leading surveying engineering and design consulting firm. Kelley has more than 28 years of planning experience throughout several states, including Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia. He has successfully worked with a number of local, regional, and state planning agencies in the development of public policy and land use and has served on the FRA board since 2018. Hi Kelley, thank you for joining us today.
Kelley Klepper: Good afternoon, Amber. Thanks for having me, I really appreciate this. And more importantly, congratulations on being tapped as the new executive director.
Amber: Thank you. Well, Kelley, I am so thankful that we were speaking about the COVID-19 today and its impacts on redevelopment. I know our members and our partners are getting so much information thrown their way and as I know I am, and I’m sure they are exhausted by everything that has happened in the last five months. I truly believe there are some key takeaways and opportunities from this pandemic for all CRAs and for redevelopment professionals throughout the state.
Kelley: Yeah, absolutely Amber, and as things have been trying to I’ll say transform, we’ve been on this a little bit of a wild ride the last few months, and so definitely having to stay on our toes.
What is the number one key issue that you have on your mind right now, as it relates to redevelopment throughout our state and CRAs?
Kelley: I guess part of it is just making sure that our CRAs and the folks that they are serving are going to be able to weather the storm literally because as the financial impacts and everything kind of lag and just the uncertainty of how we’re going to continue to move forward in this environment, there’s a little bit of the unknown and that also has a tendency to kind of create some concerns both at the local level as well as the state level.
Amber: When you talk about the concerns, can you kind of elaborate a little bit on those?
Kelley: A lot of it kind of boils down to is: are for those businesses that are in the CRAs, where is the customer base? Are they still coming into those areas? Are they still shopping or are they still starting to do more online, just because it’s “safer” at that point? For the residents, it’s also, what about the monies that are being generated in the TIF district and the CRA itself, or the CRA is going to be able to continue the programs for economic development and redevelopment and public policy application as far as bricks and mortar types of projects, quality of life. And just knowing where are we going to be heading in the next year two to three up to five years from now? Because as we both know, when we have incidences like this, the tax dollars will start to lag behind at some point.
Amber: Kelley, you bring up a great point with the decline, potential decline in TIF dollars, tax increment financing and property tax values.
How do you think a CRA can prepare for this? And can they?
Kelley: We’ve talked to a lot of the CRA directors across the state and, and we’ve got some incredible folks that are very forward thinking. So, in addition to having a diversity of projects in their portfolio from a master plan perspective, they’ve got the ability to kind of a shift on the fly, so to speak, and adapt to some of the changing conditions so that as projects are being proposed or programmed, if the dollars aren’t there or they need to kind of refocus, they’ve got the ability to do that through their master plan process. In talking with a lot of the directors and the staff, they’ve already been well ahead of this and starting to do the what if scenarios and situations.
Amber: Interesting. Taking a look at your master plan sounds like step one. Obviously the decline of values which could naturally occur with an economic recession is a fear, but as we’ve learned through past history, when we have an economic decline in Florida is usually when the legislature takes an attempt at reforming property taxes, meaning giving property tax relief.
Is this a concern for redevelopment and for TIF funding in the future?
Kelley: I think that always needs to be a concern and something that the FRA is staying up on because that is the low hanging fruit sometimes from the legislative side of things. But this is probably the opportunity and the time to really focus in on what is the benefit that the CRA is bringing to that community. It’s not just the reassignment of dollars for a specific purpose, but it’s a very broad-based approach that a lot of our CRAs are taking. And it’s not just businesses, it’s also those residential components, those quality of life. And it really starts to become some of that economic engine in the lifeblood and in a lot of communities.
Amber: Well, I think that’s a great point, and I think that that’s something that I know that FRA has worked at in the past and will continue to have sharing the great stories and how redevelopment and CRAs are part of the economic engine. I hope that anyone listening to this podcast would definitely start preparing to tell those stories as we enter the 2021 legislative session. Speaking acting nimble, throughout when the pandemic started, it was really amazing to me that CRA’s have been stepping up and adapting their work to really focus on their community needs. And we have, as you mentioned, we’ve seen a transformation from the brick and mortar redevelopment to business assistance programs and grant funding, etc.
How can all CRAs adapt and what are some of the successes from this re-prioritization of the needs and demands that you have seen?
Kelley: That’s a great question, Amber. The one thing that I would say is– and we’ve been talking to a lot of CRAs around the state– if you’ve not looked at your CRA master plan, as well as your financial components and your capital improvements, and the programs that you’re looking to perform over the next five, 10, 20 years, this is the perfect opportunity. What a lot of master plans and capital improvement plans have been based on is 10 years ago. So, some of that data, some of that analysis, and some of those visions are no longer relevant, especially right now. While we have a quick lull or pause, take a look and see: are the priorities in the plan and those funding sources the most appropriate for your community?
Keep in mind that one size does not fit all. Each community needs a little different approach and take on what they need and what’s viewed to be important. As we are talking about some of those brick and mortar types of projects, we’ve been seeing a shift from sidewalks or stormwater, which are no less important during this time, but more on the advertising, the business assistance and just helping the residents and especially those business owners make it through the pandemic and the period that we’re in.
Amber: No, I agree. It’s been amazing to see the amount of adaptations and trying to make sure that they are there for their communities in whatever role that they can play. Let’s kind of jump into the challenges that we see since we talked a little bit about how CRAs have been adapting to the pandemic. So obviously a major change in our CRAs and in the private sector partners are the inability to showcase or present their projects and initiative as we’ve moved to this virtual world. These obviously represent new challenges that we have to address.
How have CRAs and our private sector partners adjusted and how has that impacted local support? Has that improved it? Or is it kind of “out of sight, out of mind” without having that in-person touching and feeling? What do you think this looks like now?
Kelley: Yeah. This is where I always to say that if you’ve met many or most of our CRA directors and the folks that are involved with FRA you’ll know that this is a pretty outgoing bunch. They love to be meeting and greeting face-to-face, whether or not it’s the community or it’s the businesses that are coming in. It’s the contractors, it’s the consultants, it’s whoever, this is a very publicly-oriented group and to be able to, or to require them to not be able to do the handshake and that face-to-face meeting puts a damper on some of their efforts. But what’s made it so real.What has been really good is they’re super resilient and they’ve been trying to adapt in very short order to the virtual meetings realization of we still have a job to do, but we’ve got to rethink how we’re doing it.
So, we go from the face-to-face, that eye contact to more of the online streaming type of thing, like this podcast to the Zoom, the GoToMeetings, and just making us that much more accessible to the community as a whole. We’re starting to see some of the CRAs that are doing community workshops on a regular basis as kind of that opportunity for the community to still provide input, to still have that defined and definitive interaction between the CRA and the community. Until we kind of get a better handle on what’s going on with COVID in the situation we’re in, it’s going to be one of those things that we’re going to have to continue to adapt. Whether or not that is a virtual meeting for the next six months to a year, or we start to be able to go into a hybrid mode where we can have some limited interaction face-to-face, but then still have those opportunities for people to call in or to join in via a web link.
Amber: That’s interesting. I would almost think, while of course, the in-person handshaking, looking in the eye is the easiest way to tell the story of what you’re trying to accomplish. It might be also the case that with change comes opportunity, and now that it is virtual, maybe we have an opportunity for more participation since it is not an in-person meeting. What do you think about that?
Kelley: Absolutely. We’re seeing more and more of that, even in our business model. What would require somebody to travel to a specific location or set a specific time and then have to worry about his travel plans and arrangements, now it literally is sitting at your computer in your office or at home and being able to interact with staff and vice versa. Now, the world truly is open to a lot more of our CRAs than before.
Amber: That’s great point: With challenges sometimes come opportunities. The next challenge that I’ve kind of been thinking through, obviously Governor DeSantis has put a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures and has reauthorized it quite a few times.
Are you worried or concerned about what will happen when that emergency order expires and the courts can move forward with evictions and foreclosures?
Kelley: Absolutely, Amber. Anytime somebody is faced with losing their investment, that starts to weigh on them personally and professionally and for the CRAs that that’s their lifeblood. If the evictions are occurring and the businesses are going out, or the residents are leaving, that’s going to have a direct impact on the CRAs, especially from their financial components. So it’s not only from the, we’ll say the financial, but also what is that core business that’s been in the downtown that is that, I’ll say, centerpiece of the community, whether or not it’s the sandwich shop or it’s the mom and pop business that’s there, and the people come from all over just to go shop there. As we start seeing these evictions and I understand business is business and the landlord needs to make sure they’re getting their money as well, but there’s going to be a significant impact if we can’t come up with something or some alternative funding sources for these businesses and these residents.
Amber: Obviously focusing a lot on the financial impact of evictions, and you talked a little bit about changing kind of the look of a downtown with that centerpiece business.
Do you see any other ways that the housing market either impacts or can enhance redevelopment projects as we move forward?
Kelley: By reinvesting in the community and providing those opportunities, it’s going to stabilize the neighborhood and that area. Nothing says or throws up the red flag more than a bunch of boarded up buildings in the downtown for those companies or those residents that are looking to relocate there. That sends a strong message. If we can continue to show that there is a vibrant economic and community spirit, both business as well as residents that sends a strong message to those folks that are looking to come there of this community, understands what it takes. They’ve made the investment, they’ve made the commitment, and this is where we want to be.
Amber: That is a great point and something, I think we should all keep in mind as we move forward throughout the state and work to revive our economy. Obviously, right now there is a lot going on in the world, and I know that our city and county governments are very preoccupied and overwhelmed with just some of the basic health, safety, and protection that comes out of the pandemic. The focus has been on public safety and PPE shortages, testing facilities and things of that nature. Kelley, now more than ever city and County governments have a lot on their plate. They are very much focused and preoccupied with the public safety, with PPE shortages, with making sure we have appropriate testing facilities.
How do you think that we can show at this time more than ever, how vital the need for redevelopment is?
Kelley: If you look at the track record of a lot of our CRAs, you can see that they’ve weathered a number of storms over the last 10 to 20 years. The one thing that’s being consistent throughout that is the CRA is still there and they still are moving forward with their mission. The local governments have the ability to rely on the CRA is for that economic development for that redevelopment functioning can actually take some of the burden off of the everyday city government employee by letting them focus on what’s most important that the health related items and allowing the CRA to really kind of think about and even change some of their practices as far as redevelopments and infrastructure planning and improvements, grants, housing assistance, business assistance, and those things that other departments may have been doing might be able to be done by the CRA and its staff.
Amber: That’s very interesting. I see we have a little bit of a recurring theme here of CRAs need to make sure that they are sharing their stories and sharing the good work they do and sharing the resources they have when it comes to these housing grant opportunities and things of that nature. It seems like we have a recurring theme, so I want to jump to the opportunities. We are five months into this and at some point, we hopefully will go back to a more normal day-to-day activity. COVID-19 changes the way that we work and changes the way that we think, and changes the way that we think about redevelopment. How does this provide opportunities for CRAs? You’ve already mentioned that CRA should be considering revising their master plans but how can they leverage this new data and trends to revise and enhance the plans as they move forward?
Kelley: It’s a great question. Amber, this is a perfect opportunity. It’s like anything else, if you’ve not been looking at your redevelopment plan and kind of projecting where you’re going to land both from a financial aspect, but also from your projects then you’re doing yourself a disservice. The plan is the plan. And as one of my great friends and, and a key supporter of the FRA Gail Hamilton always says, it’s “plan the work, work the plan.” That holds true in a lot of this. If you’re not working that plan, if you’re not making the plan relevant, then you’re missing out at this point and you’re going to be further behind as we continue to move through this time, period.
There’s a lot of new information that’s going to be coming down the pipeline, and it’s not just the fact that unfortunately we are losing businesses, we’re losing certain things, but we’re also seeing an influx of a lot of residents into our communities coming from other areas that are looking for, warmer weather and better conditions year-round. Those are creating opportunities that the CRAs can start to take advantage of as well. Now, at the same time, a lot of our CRAs are affiliated or associated with downtowns and higher densities and intensities, and I’ll say kind of a congregation of people, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
They’re looking at quality of life. They’re looking at public enhancements, they’re looking at public features such as parks and open spaces where people can actually get out and recreate. It’s not only about the financial health of the community, it’s also about the health and the wellbeing and the mental health.
Amber: So interesting… CRAs and redevelopment will continue to do what we’ve always done. There’s now this kind of broader segment that we might’ve already done, but now could put a bigger focus. I really like that, that thought of the open spaces and how do we adapt our communities to deal in this new environment where social distancing and things of that nature have become so important.
Kelley: And if I can add one thing to that, Amber, one of our clients and she’s a good friend of ours, Jessica Newman over the City of Wauchula. When they redid their and updated their CRA master plan, they put a parks and recreation component in the master plan itself because they were realizing that their parks and open spaces were a critical component for the community, but it’s also starting to play into, like I said, the social distancing and just being able to get out and about. Jessica really took a forward step and a big leap at that point to say, we want to focus as part of our CRA on these types of impacts and these types of projects. It’s not only construction and neighborhood support and stabilization, but it’s also about healthy living.
Amber: Interesting. With Wauchula and making that change, is that kind of a newer step in the state, or is that something that other CRAs are also looking at?
Kelley: It’s all across the board, Amber. A lot of the CRA’s will have parks portions embedded within the CRA master plan, but Jessica really wanted to have a standalone, almost like a separate parks plan that laid out all of the city’s parks or the CRA’s parks and tying that into neighborhood stabilization and community policing and things of that nature.
Amber: We talked a little bit about foreclosures and the potential negative kind of side of the impacts.
Do you see any positives that could come out of an increase in foreclosures on commercial properties?
Obviously, we don’t like to see foreclosures, no one likes to see a housing market or real estate market that is going down, but with change comes opportunity. Do you think that there are some opportunities there?
Kelley: Absolutely. And I will echo your comment about how we don’t want to see the foreclosures, but that’s unfortunately part of life as we know it right now, and that may create some opportunities for a new business or for something to come in. Unfortunately, if a business was struggling before the pandemic and the pandemic just exacerbated that, maybe it was time that they start thinking about something different for that specific building and property.
Amber: So once again, taking a new look at the way that you’ve always done things in light of everything that’s changed in the world. It’s interesting because the history of Florida, we obviously have had a few housing booms and I personally have always focused more on the tax side of it just because that’s where I came from professionally, but it is interesting to think about the opportunities and that just because we’ve done something one way, that doesn’t mean it’s the way we need to do it going forward to be successful and to create the best communities and the best situations for our CRAs, our cities, our counties, and our state. So, Kelley, we’ve talked a lot about different impacts of the pandemic today, but I think the most important, or the question that’s probably on everyone’s mind is:
How would you describe the outlook for CRAs and for redevelopment professionals throughout the state?
Kelley: I’m going to use one of the terms that you’ve used quite a bit today, opportunistic and optimistic. This is the opportunity for CRAs are professionals and even folks in my line of business to really stand out, to do something different than the status quo, to make a difference and make an impact and the community. That can be a lot of different ways, but just to kind of sit back and think, well, I’m just going wait here and see what happens with the pandemic is the wrong approach. We need to be out in front of this. We need to be out in front of our businesses and our residents within the CRAs. We need to be out in front of our elected officials to show them the benefits that CRAs have and can have during an episode like this.
Yes, there’s the financial components, there’s other things, but there’s also the secondary and tertiary effects that CRAs bring to a community. And at the end of the day, that affects the city or the county’s bottom line. It’s not just about dollars and cents, it’s about the overall comprehensive look that holistic approach to development and the way a community grows and develops and redevelops. A lot of our communities are at the stage where redevelopment is pretty much the only way that they’re going to effectively grow instead of continuing to sprawl out, so let’s capitalize on what we know. That’s where the infrastructure is. Who are the best people to talk to about that? Our CRA professionals, because they’re there, they’re in the trenches day in, day out, they’re working with our utility departments. They’re talking with the businesses and they’re talking with everybody. This is the opportunity that we need to seize on and show the importance of CRAs across the state.
Amber: I’m hearing from you, that it sounds like the redevelopment is more important than ever. Do you think that, in addition to rethinking the way you do things and being creative, are there any other things that we haven’t talked about in the new methods or any outcomes or anything that you think a CRA director or redevelopment professional should be thinking about right now?
Kelley: The thing I would say, Amber, is don’t throw the don’t throw the towel in at this point. Don’t sit back and wait to see what happens. Ask your partners, ask your friends: what are they doing? What are they seeing from their community? And then try to apply that to their community. Again, one size does not fit all, but you can easily adapt a certain type of program to your community on your scale. And that’s where it’s really important to be in the forefront right now, talking, investigating, analyzing, looking at your plan, because, if it’s not in your master plan, you’re not supposed to be doing it. So, it’s even more critical right now to be in front of this and the community that you’re working in.
Amber: I just want to thank you so much, Kelley for your time today. Your insight into what is going on in the world of redevelopment has been invaluable today, and I’m very appreciative that you serve the Florida Redevelopment Association. Thanks so much with your time and your expertise. And if you’re looking for more information and to see what other CRAs are doing throughout the state to assist with the impacts of COVID-19, please visit our dedicated resource page at redevelopment.net/COVID-19. We’re continually updating this page with information, tools and resources to help guide you through these changing times, a special thanks to our members, supporters, and listeners. We hope you will join us next time on the Redevelopment Works podcast.
Narrator: Thanks for listening to the redevelopment works podcast produced by the Florida Redevelopment Association. This podcast serves as a resource for members and private sector partners alike to effectively operate within a community redevelopment area for more information, visit redevelopment.net/podcast.