Even though the Northwood Village neighborhood in West Palm Beach is a growing business district, it is surrounded on all sides by crime, according to Neighborhood Scout. Despite attempts to make the area appear safer, the city's Community Redevelopment Agency has decided to cut funds for security.
Sam Worth grew up nearby and has watched Northwood Village change since the Community Redevelopment Agency became involved 15 years ago.
“You can see it with the art on the wall, they are trying to beautify it,” Worth said.
The Community Redevelopment Agency is an independent government organization. But its annual plan is approved by an advisory board. In West Palm Beach, this board is made up of the five elected city commissioners.
The City of West Palm Beach website describes the local Community Redevelopment Agency’s goal. It aims to “stimulate redevelopment activity in order to strengthen the economic base of the redevelopment area.”
According to the Strategic Finance Plan approved last week, the organization plans to dedicate over $2.5 million to redevelopment. This includes marketing, developing and providing extra security to the four blocks that make up Northwood Village.
Senior Project Manager for the West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency Allison Justice described Northwood Village as the North End’s engine. According to Justice, because Northwood Village is becoming a central location for business, it requires significant funding.
“Since one of our priorities is retaining and attracting business, we focus on the core,” Justice said.
But according to locals, this emphasis on a specific part of Northwood is creating a stark contrast to the surrounding environment. According to Neighborhood Scout, Northwood Village is in the middle of one of the most dangerous parts of the city.
“I love what they’ve done with it because it’s somewhere where people can walk without being worried about getting shot,” Worth said. “However, you go two streets east, two streets west, two streets north, two streets south, and you could end up a possible target.”
In order to enhance business potential, the Community Redevelopment Agency has allocated $175,000 to fund extra security for the upcoming year. Part of that money pays Giddens Security, a private security company, to provide an unarmed patrol officer for Northwood Village.
The Community Redevelopment Agency is responsible for four other sectors in the Northwood/Pleasant City area. And yet, Northwood Village is the only one with money set aside in the budget for extra security measures.
But business owners agree that any kind of additional security is an improvement.
Daniel Tobin, co-owner of Relish & More on Northwood Road, is grateful for the money the Community Redevelopment Agency invests in security.
“I think it actually helps…They come in, they check on us, they check on our staff,” Tobin said. “The more money that is being thrown at private security, the better.”
Sgt. David LeFont of the West Palm Beach Police Department said that the Giddens Security personnel may help people feel safer. But at the same time, he also said that Northwood Village has no greater need than surrounding parts of Northwood.
“It’s working because people are out there shopping and dining,” LeFont said. “But no, they don’t need [extra attention].”
Justice explained that the security measures are all a part of the Community Redevelopment Agency’s master plan to increase business revenue.
“It is not necessarily tied to crime stats, but is about safety perceptions,” Justice said. “If customers don’t feel safe shopping and dining in an area, the businesses will not be successful.”
LeFont thinks that, while unarmed guards may not be able to provide much protection, they can assist the police department.
“They are, in essence, always going to be a witness and that is one of the most difficult things with police officers,” LeFont said. “People don’t always want to talk to them.”
But Worth is not so sure this hired security doesd much to help solve the bigger picture of crime in the area.
“You are kind of in the middle of two potential warzones so you really need more than an unarmed security guard up here with a whistle,” Worth said.
However, when the recession hit a few years ago, the CRA had to make decisions about priorities. They decided to decrease funding for security. Although two patrolmen used to guard Northwood Village, there is now only one Giddens Security officer during weekdays.
“In order to complete other projects, the security was modified,” Justice said. “We have begun to shift redevelopment focus to other areas of in the CRA.”
Charles Hufton, owner of Northwood Antiques in Northwood Village, is dissatisfied with these cuts in funding private security.
“There is very little crime on this street and the neighboring streets, but it’s the peripheral of Broadway on one side and Tamarind on the other,” Hufton said. “It’d be better like it was before, when there was more of a [security] presence.”
Justice believes that the need for security is decreasing as the focus shifts to areas more directly related to business. More money is now dedicated to marketing and infrastructure improvements.
“As redevelopment occurs and an area is stabilized, there is less need for security,” Justice said. “We still keep the police patrols, but the security team is really meant to be ambassadors for the businesses and visible to customers.”
The Strategic Finance Plan reveals that the CRA intends to further cut funds for security over the next five years.
Some business owners do not think this is a good idea.
“I am not in favor of any deduction in terms of security,” Tobin said. “I would like it to be the way it is, if not more.”
Worth also thinks that more security is still imperative to the success of Northwood Village as a business district.
“For the most part, the rejuvenation of this area is coming along pretty well,” Worth said. “But there needs to be something done about the link, because to get here, it’s kind of risky.”