Oct. 8--PANAMA CITY -- City leaders approved long-term rebuilding and economic development plans Tuesday on the cusp of Hurricane Michael's one year anniversary.
The plans were passed after months of development, multiple public meetings and input from thousands of residents. With the plans, officials want to make the city a better place to live, work and invest than it was prior to the historic, Oct. 10 Category 5 hurricane.
The Panama City Commission approved the plans during its regular meeting on Tuesday.
"I'm excited we've passed this and are moving forward with doing what the public expects us to do," Mayor Greg Brudnicki said after the meeting.
The long-term recovery plan includes multiple recommendations to improve and actions the city can take to achieve them. Some of the recommendations include updating the city's waterfront with tree-shaded, walkable areas, improving the downtown streetscape, adding housing downtown, strengthening the stormwater drainage system and upgrading parks and other public gathering places.
The plan also recommends the city update and streamline its rules and regulations for land development downtown.
"It's important to streamline the process so you don't have to be a big corporate investor to invest downtown," said Victor Dover with Dover, Kohl and Partners, the consulting firm the city hired to create the plan.
The economic development plan the city approved offers a set of goals including improving quality of life, economic diversification and increasing access to opportunities. To improve quality of life, the plan recommends reduction and prevention of blight. The report also recommends offering more programs to help small businesses succeed and thereby foster economic diversification.
To increase access to opportunity, the plan suggests options like incentivizing local employment and modernizing public housing.
Mark McQueen, city manager, said the city expects to start immediately on the plans' recommendations.
"We don't intend this to be a door stopper," McQueen said of the lengthy plans. "We plan to get this completed in the next three to five years."
The city has already begun work on some aspects of recovery and improvement, including using millions of dollars in state and federal money to help needy residents with housing.
In keeping with the hurricane anniversary theme, the city got updates on cleanup and repairs in the past year during the meeting.
Shane Daugherty, superintendent of the city's solid waste division, said that to date, crews had removed 3.6 million cubic yards of hurricane debris in the city.
"That's 36 years-worth of debris that I would haul on a normal basis," Daugherty said.
He said crews also removed 181,919 cubic yards of debris from 31.7 miles of ditches.
Meanwhile, the city's insurance has covered 126 permanent repair projects for city properties at a total cost of $18.6 million to date. Some projects include fixing six fire stations and replacing the roof on the Martin Theatre downtown, with plans underway to restore the building's historic facade.
During the meeting, the commission also accepted donations from several companies, including $50,000 from Gulf Power to install new park lighting; $15,000 from Florida Blue to support the city's Survivors Jam concert on Saturday; and $500 from United Airlines to help the ReTreePC campaign.
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