Gainesville CRA wins international economic development award for creative annual report

GAINESVILLE, Fla.--“What would it take to get you to read an annual report?” That’s the question the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) tried to solve when it partnered with a local cartoon/graphic novels school to transform its state-mandated annual report into a piece of art

This unique community outreach effort was awarded a 2015 Bronze Excellence in Economic Development Award in the Annual Report category for small cities (with a population of 25,000-200,000) from the International Economic Development Council (IEDC).

More than 31,000 copies of the “Sunday comics” annual report parody were distributed through the Gainesville Sun newspaper, City Hall and other outlets—breaking a new engagement record for the agency. Cartoonists from the Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW) hand-drew 16 custom illustrations ranging from a Peanuts-styled sketch about the CRA’s façade grant program results to a Dilbert-inspired office strip about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into revitalizing urban spaces.

With more than 4,500 members across the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and other nations, the IEDC is the world’s largest professional organization for economic development practitioners.

“From localized community projects, to large scale endeavors, economic development efforts have played a vital role in the global economy,” said JoAnn Crary, CEcD, Chair of the International Economic Development Council and President of Saginaw Future Inc. “The award serves as a salute to pacesetting organizations like the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency for leading the charge."

CRA projects like the Bo Diddley Plaza renovations, 32-acre Depot Park construction, Power District revitalization, Heartwood neighborhood and GTEC area commercial development are designed to draw economic energy to Gainesville.     

“The CRA had a great message and were game for an experimental, fun way to get it across. We got to draw in the style of our favorite comic strips, think creatively about a project, and share in the great work the CRA does in our community!” said SAW founder and artist Tom Hart.

Illustrating the CRA’s year-in-review increased the public’s understanding of urban revitalization program impacts—and showcased local talent.

“Headquartered within our Downtown redevelopment area, the SAW is one of only three comic schools of its kind in the whole country,” said CRA Interim Director Sarah Vidal-Finn. “We embraced the opportunity to work with local artists to convey our stories. One of Gainesville’s best kept secrets, they are a terrific testament to South Main Street’s burgeoning art scene and the amazing talent that resides right in the heart of our city."

Recipients of IEDC's Excellence in Economic Development Awards demonstrate to an experienced panel of judges that they are at the forefront of the economic development profession. They are recognized as the world’s best economic development programs and partnerships, marketing materials, and the year’s most influential leaders. These awards honor organizations and individuals for their efforts in creating positive change in urban, suburban, and rural communities.

Click here to read the report:
Click here for a quick video about the making of the annual report:
Click here to learn more about the artists Justine Mara Andersen, Tom Hart & Sally Cantirino:


About the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency

The Gainesville CRA’s goal is to build awesome things that make a difference in Gainesville, FL. Bridging the gap between public and private investment, the agency awakens potential in underserved urban areas. Its toolkit includes: buckets of fresh paint, robust public infrastructure assistance, motivated community do-ers, economic incentives, and ambitious creative vision.

The City of Gainesville established the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) in 1981. The authority to establish the CRA is enabled by Sections 163.330-163.45 Florida Statutes. Redevelopment is undertaken in four distinct redevelopment districts: Downtown, Fifth Avenue Pleasant Street, College Park University Heights, and the Eastside Redevelopment Area.  Redevelopment projects are coordinated in these districts by the CRA and implemented by a team of partners that includes other City departments and private citizens.

About the International Economic Development Council

The International Economic Development Council (IEDC) is a non-profit membership organization serving economic developers. With more than 4,600 members, IEDC is the largest organization of its kind. Economic developers promote economic well-being and quality of life for their communities, by creating, retaining and expanding jobs that facilitate growth, enhance wealth and provide a stable tax base.  From public to private, rural to urban, and local to international, IEDC’s members are engaged in the full range of economic development experience. Given the breadth of economic development work, our members are employed in a wide variety of settings including local, state, provincial and federal governments, public private partnerships, chambers of commerce, universities and a variety of other institutions. When we succeed, our members create high-quality jobs, develop vibrant communities, and improve the quality of life in their regions.

No, this isn't an early April Fool's joke.

Public agency releases Sunday funnies version of its annual report

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Annual Reports can be boring pieces of literature—when’s the last time you actually read one of them?

Most Florida citizens weren’t exactly clamoring to read up on public infrastructure projects, so the City of Gainesville’s Community Redevelopment Agency (GCRA) turned to comic strips to illustrate their year-in-review.    

The dramatic, full-color Sunday-comics-styled annual report will be printed on newspaper and dropped on the doorsteps of 31,000 city residents through a partnership with the local paper on Sunday March 29. The agency’s cartooned anecdotes include a “Peanuts”-style sketch about its commercial façade grant program and a “Dilbert” inspired office strip about the work that goes into revitalizing urban spaces.

Increasing civic engagement and participation was a major project priority. “Our projects are funded by taxpayer dollars and have a tremendous impact on people’s lives,” said GCRA director Anthony Lyons. “We thought that illustrating our redevelopment stories would make them more accessible and intriguing… and help get the word out beyond just City Hall, taxing authorities and advisory board members.”
The GCRA partnered with local art school Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW) to design the report.

“You don’t call a comic book school about doing a project if you want something that’s been done before,” said SAW instructor Justine ‘Barefoot’ Andersen. “Sunday funnies have been in decline for a long time. This project was a fun way to pay tribute to a medium that’s quickly becoming a lost art.”

“SAW is one of only three comic schools of their kind in the whole country and they’re located just down the street within our Downtown redevelopment district,” said GCRA manager Sarah Vidal-Finn. “We were really impressed with their quirkiness and creativity… they’re a terrific testament to South Main Street’s burgeoning local art scene.”

Check out to view the agency’s cartooned report. Copies will also be available at 802 NW 5th Ave Suite 200, Gainesville, Florida.

Media contact:

Nathalie McCrate, project manager for the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency // 352-393-8213

Tom Hart, executive director of the Sequential Artists Workshop


About the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency
A public agency devoted to revitalizing urban spaces, the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency (GCRA) builds awesome things that matter in Gainesville, FL. The GCRA helps underserved regions attract private investment through community partnerships, competitive economic development programs and improved public infrastructure. Projects have ranged from constructing the signature 13th Street Helyx Bridge to building a 32-acre public park to incentivizing Mindtree Ltd.’s pledge to create 400 high-wage local jobs. The GCRA targets redevelopment efforts in four core urban areas (Downtown, Eastside, Fifth Avenue/Pleasant Street and College Park/University Heights). End goal? Help an area unlock barriers to private investment, and then step out of the way and let the private sector do the rest.

About the Sequential Artists Workshop
Gainesville, FL-based Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW) is one of only three comic book schools in the entire country. Committed to offering an affordable arts education, the school offers a year-long program, several week-long opportunities and online classes.
The comics and graphic novels organization got off the ground in 2011 through community support and a five thousand dollar IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign.