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St. Augustine breathes life into neglected West City

Just west of the hustle and bustle of Downtown St. Augustine, right over the San Sebastian River, is a vibrant district that hasn’t always gotten the same attention as the rest of the city. That’s West City, a community with historic ties to the area’s Black community not unlike neighboring West Augustine.

West City is on the rise, and a new initiative from the city of St. Augustine to form a community redevelopment agency aims to infuse the district with extra attention and cash, and local stakeholders are interested.

Greg Dettra has operated a business along West King Street for about a decade. When he opened Paper Root Clothing Co., he said, he observed less interest in doing business in West City because it was a “bad part of town.”

Dettra never believed it. The notion has become especially outlandish in recent years, he said, as more businesses, eateries and places to hang out pop up.

This map shows the boundaries of St. Augustine’s new West City Community Redevelopment Agency. The CRA covers the neighborhood typically known as West City. Its eastern boundaries include West King Street just over the San Sebastian River all the way to St. Augustine’s boundaries to the west. | City of St. Augustine.

He said it only makes sense that the city give West City some attention.

“I think they see the potential of this side of town,” Dettra told Jacksonville Today. “Downtown is kind of maxed out.”

Down the road from Paper Root is Buena Onda Cafe, a vegan restaurant and coffee shop that opened its doors in 2021. Sous-chef Carlos Fuentes says the restaurant has formed its own little community in the area, and it’s been a part of West City’s changing character.

As new tenants take over more empty storefronts, life is breathed into the community, changing the neighborhood, Fuentes said.

“I think there was a horrible stigma on West King for a long time,” he said, “about it being a really bad part of town.”

Fuentes, who works in a cafe covered in a large mural, hopes to see the area become an arts and culture district for St. Augustine. Manager Jaclyn Briand said she wants to see more foot traffic and interest in general for West City.

The Buena Onda crew and Dettra all agreed: Change is already on the way with big plans for at U.S. 1 and King Street. The project, led by the Broudy family, who already own a liquor store at the corner, will include seven-story buildings, retail space, a parking garage and apartment housing.

With such big changes already underway in West City, St. Augustine wants to invest in making it a great place to live, work and play for new and old residents alike.

What’s the plan?

The plan to revitalize West City is spearheaded by longtime resident Jaime Perkins, neighborhood services and community redevelopment agency manager for the city of St. Augustine. The approval April 22 of a new community redevelopment area in the city kickstarted a process Perkins is excited about.

“I think it’s always been a very vibrant and thriving community. It just needs the TLC we provide to other areas,” she told Jacksonville Today. “West Augustine and the western part of the city had a very thriving business district. It seems to be coming back … and I’d love to see how a CRA can invest in small businesses to help them thrive even more.”

Poor sidewalks, damaged homes and stormwater issues are just a few of the problems St. Augustine has identified. Fixing those problems will mean redirecting a portion of property taxes generated by property owners directly into the community.

That’s how a community redevelopment agency gets its funding — not by raising property taxes outright, but by redirecting some of the property taxes generated by revitalizing an area back into the community.

This mural, from artist Leda B at nearby Stay True Tattoo, adorns the back of Buena Onda Cafe, a vegan restaurant and coffee shop in West City. | Noah Hertz, Jacksonville Today.

Perkins gave an example: Let’s say you own a home in West City and your property taxes for 2024 were $500. When St. Augustine agreed to create a new community redevelopment area, the city took a snapshot of all of the property taxes right then. Next year, if your property taxes increase to $600, the difference, or the tax increment, stays in the neighborhood.

“Every year from this adoption forward,” Perkins said, “the increment, the addition to your taxes, will go into a special pot to fund community redevelopment.”

The next step for the city is to begin soliciting public input on what local stakeholders would like to see fixed up in the community. As a lifelong resident, Perkins has some ideas, like making the area more pedestrian-friendly to discourage people from driving everywhere and lending a hand to people who already live in the neighborhood.

In the coming months, a steering committee will help figure out what members of the community want to see happen with West City and devise a community redevelopment plan. A board of community members will be selected to staff the community redevelopment agency that will direct funds and decide on what projects should help West City continue to grow and improve.

Locals interested in playing a role in the city’s steering committee can apply on the city’s website or by contacting the city clerk’s office by phone at 904-825-1007 or by email at .

To stay up to date with public meetings and other goings-on with the new West City CRA.