Project Background

The City of Marianna, nicknamed "the City of Southern Charm," is the population center and county seat of Jackson County in the panhandle of Florida. The historic city is located along the Chipola River and is rich with unique and beautiful natural recreation areas such as the Florida Caverns State Park.

Like many small towns, the city and surrounding county have struggled with decades of economic decline as many of the community's major employers have closed or relocated over the years.

One recent closure was the state-run Dozier School for Boys, which cost the city many jobs and left a large 159-acre property with an unknown future. The property is one opportunity among many along an important corridor that forms the southwestern gateway to the city. The corridor connects the city with Interstate 10 to the the south and represents an important area for the city's economic development efforts.

The city and county requested the aid of the CPAT program to develop a vision plan for the corridor.

Pennsylvania Avenue Corridor / West End

Community Planning Assistance Team Report

The team's final report includes a review of existing conditions, followed by recommendations on the corridor. Among other findings, the team wrote that the recruitment of employers and jobs is a major priority, there is a need to change negative perceptions about the area both within and outside the community, the West End neighborhood must be included in any corridor revitalization efforts, the area's natural beauty is an asset to be promoted, and implementation should focus on short-term, achievable victories.

Map of Jackson County and Marianna, Florida.

Project Updates

Team leader Ellen Heath, FAICP, and APA Programs Manager Ryan Scherzinger conducted an initial site visit to Marianna April 27–28, 2017. They met with Marianna Municipal Development Director Kay Dennis, AICP, and Jackson County Community Development Director Wilanne Daniels. They toured the city and surrounding county and met with city officials to discuss the project.

The full team's visit occurred February 26–March 2, 2018.

Meet the Team


Team Leader

Ellen M. Heath, FAICP

Ellen Heath is principal for AECOM Design and Planning. She is a certified planner with over 30 years of experience in visioning, land use, transportation and recreational planning, and historic preservation planning for both public and private clients. Heath also has significant experience on projects involving public participation and consensus building. Her experience includes plans for corridors in Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, and Nashville, as well as neighborhoods throughout the southeast. Prior to joining EDAW/AECOM, Heath was employed by the National Park Service, where she served as the community planner for the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta. She received a Master of City Planning from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Delaware.

Team Member

Peter M. Costa, AICP, PTP

Peter Costa is a principal with Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates, Inc. Costa has over a decade of experience in transportation and environmental planning. His experience expands across the U.S. and he has served as project manager and lead planner on a number of multimodal transportation projects, land-use development, and infrastructure projects, and assisting major cities develop transportation demand and parking management programs. Costa specializes in building community investments through strategic transportation planning. His knowledge of community-based plans, development impact studies, multimodal corridor projects, and comprehensive parking management plans throughout the U.S. exemplify his commitment to putting people first and educating stakeholders about the connection between transportation and the build environment. Educational background includes a master's degree in Urban Planning and Public Policy and a bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Team Member

Sonja M. Ewing, AICP

Sonja Ewing is supervisor of the Park Planning Section of the Prince George's County Parks Department of the Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC). Ewing has a rich background and extensive experience as an urban planner, urban designer, college professor, and urban planning consultant in both urban and suburban settings. Her work focuses on community engagement, placemaking, participatory design, and sustainable development. Ewing holds master's degrees in Urban Design from the Washington University School of Architecture in St. Louis and in Community Planning from the University of Cincinnati. She holds a bachelor's degree from Washington University in Architecture and African American Studies.

Team Member

W. Thomas Lavash

Tom Lavash brings 32 years of experience in real estate and economic development consulting on behalf of public and private clients, including municipal and state governments, institutions, investment funds, and developers on 450 projects across the United States and in the Caribbean. His firm, WTL+a, has experience throughout Florida, completing over 150 projects for both public and private clients over the past 15 years. He directs market, financial feasibility, tax increment (TIF), and cost/benefit and fiscal impact studies for revitalization and redevelopment projects, with an emphasis on economic development, small area plans, downtown mixed-use, waterfront, suburban corridors and commercial districts, in-town neighborhoods, and transit-oriented development (TOD) projects.

Team Member

Mary Morton, AICP

Mary Morton is an urban designer and planner with a background in architecture. She has Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Miami and a Master of City Planning from the University of Pennsylvania. Her work focuses on the nexus between the built environment and communities. She is passionate about designing public and private spaces and developing plans and strategies that enhance the environment and serve the community. She seeks to empower residents and build capacity in communities by organizing interactive workshops, charrettes, and meetings. Morton currently works at the multidisciplinary firm WRT.