The federal bank president toured the city with local elected representatives, city staff, and State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.
PANAMA CITY — For a community rebuilding out of rubble, action is imperative. That's the message Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Raphael Bostic gave to local and state officials on Friday.
"We’re in a period here where action is actually imperative," Bostic said at a Friday press conference, speaking specifically about options relating to the treatment of property which the city of Panama City could explore to make sure blight does “not become the narrative of neighborhoods.”
The federal bank president toured the city with local elected representatives, city staff, and State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis. The group met with business leaders and community partners and learned about the state of Panama City 16 months after one of the nation’s greatest natural disasters.
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On the tour, which included a flyover, “I could see the degree of recovery, the amount of resilience, and the work that's still left to be done for this place to be whole again,” Bostic said.
Despite the rather dismal scene from air and on the streets, Bostic championed the area's residents for their unquenchable spirit to restore their community.
“There are real aspirations for this area and the storm hasn’t dashed hope and dreams and a personal drive that people have to thrive and to strive to be better and more,” he added.
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Some challenges the city is confronted with is those of clearing titles, insurance, getting loans, economic and workforce development, and lack of affordable housing, Bostic said.
Officials also discussed private-public options to deal with problematic properties that are left vacant or unkempt primarily due to the impact of the storm, he noted.
Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki and City Manger Mark McQueen appeared hopeful that the return of the Valentine's Day meeting will open up the area to more financial stability and growth.
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“He can deliver our message ... to everyone else in Washington of just exactly what he saw and what our challenges are,” Brudnicki said of Bostic. The mayor later noted the significant damage done by the hurricane necessitates continued federal support.
“Everyone is pulling together,” McQueen said later. “We’re moving in the same direction to really solve wickedly hard complex problems. At the end of the day ... our citizens are really the heroes, they are the ones that have been resilient.”
Patronis noted the benefits of building relationships with federal contacts, such as Bostic, and the advantage of giving them a first-hand experience of a post Category 5 hurricane city.
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“We’ve felt a little lonely here lately,” Patronis said, turning his chair to speak directly to Bostic. “We’ve definitely a little forgotten, but we’re working hard to get this community back and on speed. I’m convinced we’ll be better and stronger than before.”
Ground-level community outreach is a recently developed approach the Federal Reserve is taking, according to officials. Bay County will be a model for future natural disasters in other areas.
“This is not an issue just about Panama City or New Orleans after (Hurricane) Katrina. This is an issue about how we as the United States of America deal with disaster recovery and response,” Bostic concluded.
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“If we can fix those at a very systemic level, then the next mayor who has to deal with a Category 5 coming through, won’t have to have the same struggles that this mayor is having.”
The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta serves the Sixth Federal Reserve District, which covers Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, and parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.