DADE CITY — Shopping at trendy Ikea hardly brings to mind the term "brownfield."
Yet that's what the site of the furniture store in Ybor City was before developers turned it into a mecca for affordable bookcases and end tables in 2009.
Home to a cannery from 1936 until 1981, the location had been characterized by local media as a "gritty industrial site between the Port of Tampa and Ybor City," according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Now officials in Pasco hope to use the same state program to help revitalize a 305-acre area in and near the Dade City Business Center on U.S. 301, including a biodiesel plant that is seeking to expand and add as many as 20 jobs.
The program, administered through the DEP, would allow the area to receive a brownfield designation, qualifying for financial incentives and tax credits to help existing industries expand and attract new ones.
While the business park, for years the site of the Lykes Pasco orange juice plant, does not have contamination, the area can still qualify as a brownfield, officials said.
"You can have the perception of contamination," said Melanie Kendrick, a senior planner with Pasco County who is helping coordinate the effort with Dade City officials. The area encompasses both the city and county, so both governments must approve.
Dade City is set to take a vote on Tuesday, while Pasco County commissioners have set a vote for Nov. 16.
Upon designation, properties within a brownfield area may participate in economic incentives such as a job bonus refund or sales and use tax exemption for building materials used in a mixed-use project or housing project. If contamination is known or suspected, the local government may designate the area and identify the person responsible for brownfield site rehabilitation. That person would then negotiate with teh DEP.
Participation is voluntary, so businesses that might not want to be included can opt out.
So far no one has expressed opposition at any of the required public hearings.
"Our biodiesel (production) is shut down now, but we want to bring it back up and increase capacity," said Rodney Sutton, president of Agri-Source Fuels, a tenant in the business park. The plant, which converts chicken fat to diesel fuel, now is refining glycerin, a byproduct of biodiesel. Depending on the grade, glycerin can be used in paint, resins and other plastics as well as soap and toothpaste. Sutton said the company is redeveloping a financial model that is "somewhat contingent" on brownfield designation. Company representatives were the ones who first approached officials with the request for brownfield designation.
"We need for (an expansion) to make economic sense," Sutton said, adding that the company hopes to reach its permitted capacity of 60 million gallons a year.
Other areas in the state have benefited greatly from the brownfield program.
Nearly all of Duval County is designated as a brownfield area. In addition, Clearwater and St. Petersburg have large areas that have been successful in attracting state and federal grants as a result of being declared brownfields.
Clearwater — the first state-designated brownfield area — has pulled in more than $4 million in state and federal grants. Some 70 private sector projects and 17 city-related projects have used brownfield grant funding in the city.
St. Petersburg's enterprise zone, which includes large portions of downtown and areas of Midtown, have been named brownfields.
Some of the benefits for a company include a job creation tax credit. If 20 percent of a project is affordable housing, the developer could receive a sales tax refund for the materials used on the affordable housing component.
Successful brownfield projects and enhanced economic incentives have encouraged local governments to designate more brownfield areas for revitalization. Pasco County has hired a Clearwater consultant to examine other areas for possible designation.
The presence of the program can encourage new companies to locate there.
"If a site is designated as a brownfield, a new developer never has to take on liability for any sins of the past," said John Walsh, vice president of the Pasco County Economic Development Council, a public-private partnership. It also helps preserve green space by allowing companies to build in areas that have already been developed rather than on new land.
In 2009, 10 local governments reported approval of resolutions designating 10 brownfield areas. During the first half of 2010, 11 local governments have designated 14 brownfield areas. So far 252 areas in 96 communities across the state have been designated as brownfields, according to the DEP.
The number of brownfield areas designated in 2009 was notably less than in recent years, according to the DEP's annual report on the program. However, designations in 2010 have already exceeded the number for 2009 as cash-strapped communities continue to look for ways to jump-start their economies.
"It's another tool in the toolbox," said County Commissioner Michael Cox. "A lot of companies look for properties with just that for the tax credits."
The locally designated areas encompass about 185,030 acres of both contaminated and uncontaminated property, including residential and viable business properties.
"It opens the area up for financial assistance they otherwise would not have," said County Commissioner Ted Schrader, whose district includes the Dade City Business Park. He said no contamination has been found yet but with a juice plant operating so many years with no regulation, "I wouldn't be surprised if they did have some contamination."
Schrader said the designation, along with other assets such as rail access, would make the area an attractive site for industry and bring much-needed jobs to east Pasco.
"It has a real opportunity to become a dry port," he said.