BY JAMES HARPER
Dozens of residents, predominantly Black, recently voiced their opposition to the city of Daytona Beach possibly defaulting on a nearly $250,000 loan that Gerald Chester received in 2009 to buy land in Midtown, demolish dilapidated buildings and replace them with two businesses.
The city has given Chester more time to pay on the loan received from Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) coffers.
The city’s CRA board acquiesced to the demands of the public and has granted Chester forbearance on his loan after he presented a business plan laying out how he would begin repayment of the loan.
April 2014 extension
The board, which is made up of Mayor Derrick Henry and city commissioners, agreed that Chester would not have to make a payment until April 1, 2014, giving him enough time to finish renovating an apartment building that is part of the project and finding a tenant for an ice cream and sandwich shop located on the corner of Loomis Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Chester said his agency would continue to run the Busy Bee restaurant, which is next to the ice cream shop until someone is found to take it over.
Save Our Neighborhood President Weegie Kuendig was one of the speakers who came to the defense of Chester, CEO of the Central Florida Community Development Corporation, at a CRA meeting on July 3 at City Hall.
“The previous CRA meeting made me very uncomfortable. It appears if one individual was being held accountable and singled out. Some projects and individuals have not been held to the same scrutiny,” Kuendig said.
‘Cockamamie projects’ mentioned
Kuendig noted that she didn’t have a problem with the officials being accountable for the taxpayer money loaned to Chester.
“The point is we need a more objectively defined process for accountability where everyone whether developer, individual is held to a same level of scrutiny,” Kuendig said, noting that the city has given funds to other “cockamamie projects that have failed, projects that took a long time to be successful or projects that we are still paying for” and those individuals were not treated the same as Chester.
Resident John Nicholson also backed up Kuendig’s claim.
“You remember the Marriot. (You) forgave a $3 million dollar (loan). They sold the building and walked away with a $12 million-dollar profit. The city lost $3 million dollars,” Nicholson noted.
“I’m asking you not to forgive the amount of money (Chester borrowed), but put it as a lien. If he sells the property (and makes) a profit, we get that money back. There is no reason he should lose trying to invest in the community. If he is making an excessive profit of more than $250,000 dollars (if he sells property), then we would be getting back some of that money,” Nicholson explained.
Nicholson said he didn’t understand why the city went a year before saying anything about not receiving loan payments from Chester.
“Somebody should have said something. Payments should not go more than three months without somebody saying something,” concluded Nicholson.
Pastors defend Chester
Pastor Victor Gooden of New Life Church Ministries came to Chester’s defense.
“I’m here to support Gerald Chester. Not only is he my friend but a valued member of our community. The things he has done in the past have been tremendous for us. Continue the relationship with him; do not single him out. (Don’t) use rules for some and not rules for others. We need that project done and we need his presence in the city,” Gooden said.
He added, “Don’t throw him away. We need him. You need him.’’
Dr. L. Ronald Durham, pastor of Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church and president of the Black Clergy Alliance, also told members of the CRA board that Chester first shared his plans for Midtown back in 2009.
“The Black Clergy Alliance collaborated with him for social and economic change in the Midtown redevelopment area. We toured the area to determine a point where we could begin to start to get something happening. He recommended a site that could be center of interest for the redevelopment area,” Durham said.
“When virtually no one took an interest in Midtown, here was a young man that stepped up with a plan to do something meaningful in our community,” said Durham, urging the board to support a modification loan payment plan Chester was requesting.
“Finding ways to build our community is the mandate for what CRA stands for. I’m sure you will do the right thing,” Durham concluded.
Why he’s behind
Zone 2 Commissioner Pam Woods agreed with the speakers.
“Have we consistently asked for these things in the past,’’ she questioned. “Any of our future dealings, whether a lease arrangement or loan arrangement, I want us asking for the same thing from everybody.’’
Commissioners Carl Lentz and Kelly White had been upset that Chester did not have the business plan at the last CRA board meeting on June 19.
Chester said he didn’t receive notice in time that he needed to prepare a business plan in time for the June meeting.
He explained that he is behind on payments because the limited liability company, Central Florida Community and Economic Development (CFCED), which was created to facilitate the construction and rehabilitation of project, had a cash flow problem.
His agency, CFCDC, stepped in to fund the businesses of the CFCED.
“We reached a point we were having our own financial problems. We could no longer do that. I said to (city) staff then, last year can we get a forbearance to put us in better position for CFCED to sustain project for itself,” he explained.
“I could have walked in with support I had and made a request that this be a grant project. I didn’t do that. I wanted this project to sustain itself and become a leader. We didn’t come in for a complete handout but we did ask for a subsidy,” he added.
‘Pretty standard’ request
Commissioner White, Chester’s sternest critic, softened during last week’s meeting, saying it is “wise for us to give you more time” to pay back the loan.
But she buffered her comments saying, “It is still a loan created using taxpayer money. All questions I have asked are objective, relates to our duty for other people’s money. I am not trying to be interrogating. We don’t have any historical financials on your organization, we need them. I don’t think any of that is arduous.
“All of the things that we asked for are pretty standard,” she said, adding that she also wanted Chester to produce insurance documents for the property and make sure property taxes have been paid.
Lentz also reversed his opinion.
“I’m glad you asked for an extension until March. It’s more responsible to extend out to March. I received a lot of phone calls. I was not trying to attack you. The project has community support and will be a catalyst for that area,” he said.
Commissioner Bob Gilliland pointed out that Midtown was are not seeing the same kind of investments taking place in other areas of the city – construction of hotels on the beach side and the $400 million dollar renovation project of the Daytona International Speedway on the west side of the city.
“We need to do things differently (in Midtown). It’s important we take our time and do (Chester’s project) right,” he said.
Chester’s project is located in Commissioner Paula Reed’s zone and she commended Chester, calling him a pioneer.
“The community wants this; not just Gerald Chester. We want a new look and will support a new look,” she concluded.
Mayor Derrick Henry said the city has to support projects similar to Chester’s and said they will not treat him differently than others.
We talk about accountability – (we) will not draw lines as long as I’m here. Our objective is to hold everybody accountable and treat everybody the same,” he said.
“Midtown will not improve without a whole bunch of Gerald Chesters, a whole bunch of people willing to invest and make a sacrifice. No one else was willing to step forward. Show up and knock on his door and buy his products,” the mayor concluded.