NEW PORT RICHEY — Officials are taking the dramatic step of seeking brownfield status for nearly the entire city, hoping to tap economic incentives designed to redevelop contaminated sites.
On Tuesday night, the City Council gave unanimous approval to the first reading of a resolution seeking a state brownfield designation for the 2,250-acre Community Redevelopment Area, which covers nearly all the city. A final vote will be Nov. 1.
Such a designation would allow the city to identify specific sites that could be contaminated — such as former gas stations, dry cleaners and other businesses that used chemicals — and offer tax breaks and other perks to property owners.
Property owners who agree to participate could receive numerous incentives, including job creation tax refunds, funding for cleanup and state loan guarantees.
New Port Richey meets the state criteria for the brownfield designation because of its need for economic development, the potential interest from the private sector in participation, and having sites that could be used for open space, as well as cultural and historic uses, the resolution reads.
The only downside to the brownfield designation would be the "potential perceived stigma of some," wrote city development director Lisa Fierce. In an effort to avoid such a stigma, the city will call its brownfield area the "Economic Incentive Area," Fierce said.
The effort mirrors the city's decision in 2001 to declare all of New Port Richey as blighted, a necessary step toward creating the Community Redevelopment Area. The designation allowed the city to pursue state and federal grants. It also established "tax increment financing" — a mechanism to set aside revenue from the city's growing tax base into a redevelopment trust fund for neighborhood improvements, landscaping and commercial development.
Because the city already went through that process, Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe said he wasn't worried about any stigma from a brownfield designation.
"We're already blighted," Marlowe said. "How much worse can it get?"
But council member Judy DeBella Thomas expressed concern that a brownfield designation might affect property values. City Manager John Schneiger said he has attended several brownfield conventions across the country that have shown there is no such effect on property values.
In fact, brownfield sites that are cleaned up are often more attractive to potential developers, according to Melanie Kendrick, the county's senior planner for economic development and redevelopment.
One example of a successful brownfield site is the Ikea furniture store in Ybor City. Home to a cannery from 1936 to 1981, the property was described by local media as "a gritty industrial site." Now it's a destination for chic end tables and bookcases.
County officials, eager to transform Pasco from a bedroom community to one with high-paying jobs, hope to use the brownfield program to redevelop rundown areas such as the U.S. 19 corridor, which has seen businesses shut down and new developers favoring sites in tonier Trinity.
Pasco recently received a $1 million federal grant for its brownfield efforts, and Kendrick has been making the rounds to local city officials, including in New Port Richey last month, to tell them about the perks of the program.
"It's really a good thing in the long run," she said.