The city of Orlando has applied for a $100 million federal grant to revitalize its depressed west-side neighborhoods and turn them into an "Empowerment Zone." The program, inaugurated in 1994 by President Clinton, offers direct federal grants of up to $10 million per year for 10 years, plus tax incentives for businesses that open within the designated area. Initially there were six zones, including Atlanta, Miami, Detroit, Chicago, New York and parts of northern New Jersey. Mayors are applying for a "round two" series of grants this week.
The program is similar to the 1980s "Enterprise Zones," which employed numerous city bureaucrats but did little to reduce poverty, crime and hopelessness in the targeted areas. The large grants attached to the new program have improved some cities, although the New York zone suffered from political feuding and lack of new investment.
The Parramore has been economically depressed for decades. Orlando's leaders have used it simultaneously as a dumping ground for marginalized people and as a magnet to attract federal poverty grants. While money is necessary for revitalization, the way it has been spent so far does not inspire confidence. Between 1985 and 1993, an investment of $25 million for street-scaping, a parking garage and other sundries resulted in a $15 million drop in the zone's property values.