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Hillsborough lawmakers back proposed improvement district for Water Street Tampa

By Richard Danielson
Strategic Property Partners is working with more than a dozen architectural and design firms on the $3 billion Water Street Tampa project. [Photo courtesy of SPP]

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County legislative delegation has voted to support creating a commercial improvement district for the $3 billion Water Street Tampa project.

The proposed Water Street Tampa Improvement District would collect assessments from commercial property owners to help pay for or maintain everything from enhancements to parks to transportation facilities to landscaping to district-wide Wi-Fi.

The district would assess commercial property owners only, said Ali Glisson, spokeswoman for Strategic Property Partners, the development company created by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment capital fund. Condominium owners would not pay the assessment. The owners of apartment buildings would.

A 93-page local bill to create the independent special district has been drafted, and on Friday the legislative delegation supported it by a 9-0 vote.

Plans for Water Street Tampa include more than 2 million square feet of new office space, including Tampa’s first new office towers in nearly 25 years, 1 million square feet of new retail, cultural, educational, and entertainment space, two new hotels, about 3,500 apartments or condominiums and a new building for the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine and Health Heart Institute.

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The project’s 50-acre footprint around Amalie Arena also will include 13 acres of new or enhanced parks and public spaces. Once built, it is expected to be peopled with more than 23,000 residents, workers, students and visitors a day.

Strategic Property Partners said Monday the district:

• Could help build new parks and public spaces or make improvements to existing ones; pay for landscaping, public art and street furniture; support transportation like the streetcar, buses or facilities for autonomous vehicles and ride services like Uber and Lyft; provide district-wide Wi-Fi and support some of Water Street’s healthy design initiatives.

• Would provide for enhanced maintenance of the project and allow Strategic Property Partners to play an active role in sustaining publicly owned spaces such as Cotanchobee Park, the Tampa Bay History Center and Amalie Arena.

The only private property in the district would be that owned by Strategic Property Partners. Its borders would be Florida Avenue on the west, Whiting Street on the north, Meridian Avenue on the east and the Garrison Channel on the south.

That would put the district inside the downtown Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) and the special services district administered by the nonprofit Tampa Downtown Partnership. The partnership-run district charges property owners $1.10 per $1,000 of value as assessed by the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser.

That generates about $2.2 million a year, which pays for clean teams to pick up litter and pressure-wash sidewalks, downtown guides to help visitors, business recruitment and programs in parks and other public places.

Water Street’s developers have not figured out what assessment they plan to charge, said Jim Shimberg, the executive vice president and general counsel for Strategic Property Partners.

Developers say the new Water Street improvement district would not affect the CRA, which diverts the property taxes generated by new development in a redevelopment area to pay for roads and other public improvements that will foster more growth in the area. Already, Tampa and Hillsborough County have agreed to reimburse Water Street Tampa’s developers up to $100 million in CRA fundsfor the cost of putting in new roads, water and sewer lines and other infrastructure at the project.

The district, like others around the state, is modeled on Reedy Creek Independent District that provides public services, including water distribution, fire protection and emergency medical services, for a 25,000-acre area in two counties that includes Walt Disney World.

The difference, Shimberg says, is that the Water Street Tampa district does not plan to provide services on that scale. Rather, the assessments would help pay for "things above and beyond what the city is going to want to pay for," Shimberg said.

For example, if the city required a sidewalk of a certain width, but Water Street Tampa wanted wider sidewalks, with enhanced landscaping, the assessments could pay to cover the difference in the costs.

Though it would officially be a "limited purpose local government," the district would not have authority over zoning or permitting, developers say. It would be governed by a five-member board elected by the district’s commercial landowners and would be subject to Florida’s open-meetings and public records laws.

During this spring’s session, the Legislature approved a similar district for the planned massive Sunbridge development in Osceola County.

Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times