Voices    City

8 questions with Director of Community & Economic Development Brian Rewis

Photo provided by Brian Rewis | Graphic via 6AM City

Brian Rewis is the Director of Community & Economic Development for the City of Lakeland + is currently managing the Lakeland Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). We asked Brian eight questions about how the CRA works, how it benefits Lakeland, and what’s coming up next.

Q: How did you come to be involved with the CRA?

A: I’ve worked with the CRA as a member of the City’s Community and Economic Development Department for more than 19 years now. In late 2018, the CRA became a part of my responsibility directly as assistant director, which thrust me into much more CRA business. 

Q: What’s something that every Lakelander should know about the CRA?

A: At its core, the CRA is about reinvestment. Quick CRA 101: Property tax on increased property value within the district which, we call increment, is retained by that district to be reinvested in that district. 

We have three districts: Downtown, Midtown, and Dixieland. Each has its own redevelopment trust fund that the increment revenue that’s created annually goes into and has to be spent in the district. It’s initially created to combat blight and address underserved neighborhoods. It’s existing tax revenue. Nobody pays extra for a CRA. Since 2012, across all three of those districts, that has equated to just over $60 million of reinvestment.

Q: What project are you working on now that you’re most excited about?

A: The CRA is working on a strategic master plan for what has been called the East Main district. The area adjacent to downtown on the east is a part of the Midtown CRA, where we’re seeing interest and the kind of downtown excitement and vibe starting to move east and west — and we’re working west as well. But east, with a predominance of industrial uses, has become super enticing to a number of investors that want to see that area revitalized as a bit more inclusive and a bit more artistic.

Q: What’s coming up next for the CRA, especially from the Dixieland Art Infusion Project?

A: Overall, the CRA is continuing investment in infrastructure, business growth and support and economic development. Short term, that includes a strategic plan for the East Main district, one for the Dixieland commercial corridor, and Downtown West which is kind of like East Main but a larger area around Bonnet Springs Park, west of Florida Avenue. That Downtown West really has started to see significant investment as a result of Bonnet Springs Park. We want to understand it and guide it and make sure that everyone benefits from it.

Catalyst 2.0, which is a joint venture between the CRA, the LEDC, and the city, aimed at better promoting a vision and investment opportunities initially in and around downtown — is also taking shape for a fall launch.

Where the Dixieland Art Infusion Program is concerned, there are still more than 115 wall canvases that could accommodate additional murals. We’re far from done. Interest in the program is soaring. I expect we will continue to see somewhere in the neighborhood of six to 10 mural projects annually, for the next three to five years. 

Q: Where/how does LCRA get inspiration for projects?

A: From lots of places. We listen to the views and perspectives of those who live, work, and play in the districts. They know their needs best. We are also not above borrowing good ideas from other CRAs and other local governments, as they often do the same with us there. 

Magnolia mural by Maegan Carroll-Simmons in Traders Alley | Photo by LALtoday

Q: Which mural or art piece around Lakeland is your favorite?

A: The Lakeland mural on the Dixieland Mall building is probably my favorite. I do love the underwater mural at Subs ‘n Such. Even though the Art Infusion project is primarily through the Dixieland corridor, the Downtown CRA has assisted with some mural projects outside of Dixieland. We recently completed one across from Mitchell’s in Traders Alley. The magnolias right on the north wall of that building is another favorite.

Q: Why are CRAs important to the community?

A: Because they formalize commitment to reinvestment in blighted, often underserved areas where that public reinvestment can serve to catalyze private investment. The public’s investment through the CRA tends to bring the private sector along to see the potential for a particular area or corridor or neighborhood.

Q: What do you think Lakeland will be known for in 10 years?

A: I think the care that the Commission and so many other community leaders are taking to ensure Lakeland’s inclusivity. I got vibrancy and inclusion, as Lakeland is a place where everyone can fit in, and everyone can find something for them. I think we’re well on our way.