Finding an Opportunity

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Palatka remains in attractive position, Studer says

  • The Hotel James
    The Hotel James
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Billing itself as a small town could end up benefitting Palatka once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

That’s according to Quint Studer, the Pensacola businessman 1 Putnam hired to guide revitalization efforts in Palatka and Putnam County.

“People will question if they want to live in a large city, so smaller communities will become more attractive,” Studer said.  “A city like Palatka sits in a pretty good location. The question becomes how do you attract people your way.”

Revitalization efforts were well underway in Palatka before coronavirus sidetracked the state economy and Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order in April.

There are anticipated renovations for Hotel James and the former JCPenney building, among other developments. There is also a streetscapes project planned in conjunction with work on St. Johns Avenue to make the downtown area more attractive.

Studer helped revitalize Pensacola and he still believes Palatka can become a vibrant town as it looks to emerge from the pandemic shutdown. He said Palatka still has benefits to offer, including its affordability compared to other areas.

“The question has always been how to create vibrancy,” Studer said. “Now the question is how is this obstacle an opportunity.

“One thing we’ve been forced into is to do more things online. We’re going to get more people who can work virtually now, which is a real opportunity for Palatka with its location. You’re going to have people who want to live on the river but couldn’t before or they want to live in a small community.”

Studer said Palatka’s location is attractive – being near Jacksonville and St. Augustine – and far more affordable.

“The other advantage Palatka and Putnam County has is that they’ve been doing some groundwork and know what they’re going to implement,” Studer said. “This is a terrible thing going on, but I think Palatka came come out stronger to attract talent from bigger cities.”

Studer met online Monday with members of the Putnam County Economic Recovery Task Force and said Palatka, like all other cities in the country, will be trying to emerge from the economic slowdown at the same time and leaders should be looking for ways to take advantage of that – including attracting young talent back home from larger cities.

Local businessman and 1 Putnam member Ben Bates agrees more people may look to move to smaller communities as a result of the pandemic. He’s optimistic growth will continue in Palatka and Putnam County.

“I continue to feel positive about the community and the county,” Bates said. “I think the pieces of the puzzle are being put in place and I think the future looks very bright.

“We had a lot of momentum going forward before the virus hit and I still think good things are happening.”

The renovation of the former JCPenney building – now the Bingo Palace – is one key piece of the downtown puzzle. 

St. Johns Development LLC bought the building in September with a vision of using at least part of the space for a nice restaurant, retail stores and offices.

Bates said some cosmetic work is planned on the building’s exterior and other ways to improve it are being considered.

“We were looking to do that, but the virus put a hold on all of that,” Bates said. “It’s always frustrating whenever you break the momentum, but we’ll get back on track and keep moving forward.

“It’s disappointing because we had several things going on and were in the process of making decisions that got put on hold. Hopefully, we’ll get back on track in the month of May.”

Danny Martinez, a local businessman who was part of the group buying the JCPenney building at the corner of Second Street and St. Johns Avenue, also remains optimistic for Palatka’s future.

“I consider this time out as an opportunity to reinforce our determination to revitalize Palatka,” Martinez said. “The potential is there and with the commitments that we have from city and county officials, as well as all of the citizens pulling together, I am confident that we will start seeing noticeable progress during 2021.”