Thursday, February 22, 2018
News Roundup

St. Petersburg approves $240,000 tax break for Sam's Club

ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council rejected pleas from small business owners and voted Thursday to award the world's largest retailer a $240,000 tax reimbursement for cleaning up a site that could be polluted.

By a vote of 6-2, the council decided that Walmart, the corporate parent of the Sam's Club that is near completion at 34th Street and 17th Avenue N, should get the tax break.

"It's disingenuous on our part to negate the fact that (Walmart) is a successful company," said council member Bill Dudley. "They have a good business plan. Sam Walton had a great idea. To penalize them because they have gobs of money and they don't need it, that's baloney."

Dudley was joined by Jeff Danner, Charlie Gerdes, Jim Kennedy, Wengay Newton, and Council Chairwoman Leslie Curran in approving the tax break. It comes in the form of a state tax refund of up to $2,500 for each job created. Developers say the Sam's Club will create 120 jobs that pay an average of $20,000 and are full time, which, by the state's definition, would be at least 35 hours a week.

Council members Steve Kornell and Karl Nurse objected to the tax breaks, calling them harmful when state government is cutting back drastically.

"At a time when the state cuts $300 million from the higher education budget, this one is difficult," Kornell said.

Representatives for Walmart claimed that early last year they discovered pollution on the property that came from a nearby dry cleaner.

"We could have very easily dropped the project at that point, let it go, and let it remain a blight for the community," said Michael Goldstein, an attorney for the project. "We didn't run away, we walked toward the problem and rolled our sleeves up."

In Florida, the state can award tax breaks to companies that build in so-called brownfield areas, an official designation that means the land is so contaminated or perceived to be that tax incentives are needed to spur development.

It's up to local jurisdictions to designate the areas.

But it's not clear if the 14-acre site, which had previously hosted a Home Depot and an Office Depot, is polluted. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is reviewing a test done by site developers to determine if the pollution has reached dangerous levels.

Nurse said he thinks Walmart's claim of contamination is a ruse. He pointed out that Walmart's own representatives wrote the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in June 2011 stating that there was no soil contamination and only "very minor levels of dry cleaning solvent" on the property.

Goldstein said that letter was written before a second test showed higher levels of pollutants. State officials are reviewing the second test and have yet to determine if the pollution exceeds acceptable levels.

The City Council decided it didn't need to wait for those results.

"We are getting something out of this," said Danner. "We're getting some good development."

Walmart has repeatedly sought brownfield credits for its stores. According to an April report by Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan research institute in Tallahassee, Walmart has been awarded $18 million in state incentives since 2000, mostly for building on these less-than-ideal sites.

Four years ago, St. Petersburg's City Council expanded an existing brownfield area to include a Walmart Supercenter one-fifth of a mile away on 34th Street. State officials say Walmart is due for a $312,000 refund this year for that.

Several representatives for small businesses and community groups argued Thursday that the incentives sacrificed government funding for libraries, youth programs and elderly care for corporate profits.

"This $240,000 is a pittance to Walmart, they make that in a half-hour," said Lenny Flank of Occupy St. Pete. "To Florida, it means a lot."

"We'd rather see this money create jobs for small businesses," said Jim Grinaker, an attorney who is a member of Keep St. Pete Local. "When you support local businesses, the money stays in the community."

But Mayor Bill Foster, who supported the project, said it would send the wrong signal to other developers if the city didn't approve the tax break.

"We want the sign on our gateway sign to say, 'St. Pete, we're open for business,' " said Foster. "We want this to be an environment where it's easy to do business. We don't want to send the wrong message that you are entitled to a state benefit, but we will stand in your way, we will be the impediment."

Comments
Polk deputies seek Pinellas man accused of pushing woman from speeding car

Polk deputies seek Pinellas man accused of pushing woman from speeding car

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office has issued an arrest warrant for a Pinellas County man accused of beating and pushing a woman from a speeding car.On Feb. 17, Remond Brown II, 26, was traveling with the woman in a black Honda Accord near Highway 60 E...
Updated: 6 minutes ago
Joe Henderson: Farewell to Eddie Card, sports enthusiast, gentleman and friend

Joe Henderson: Farewell to Eddie Card, sports enthusiast, gentleman and friend

There was an empty seat in the pew at the back of my church Sunday. It was where Eddie Card used to sit.That’s where I would see Eddie and his wonderful wife, Joan, nearly every week. He would always extend his hand and give mine a firm shake.He woul...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Procession planned for ‘America’s Pastor,’ Rev. Billy Graham

Procession planned for ‘America’s Pastor,’ Rev. Billy Graham

MONTREAT, N.C. — The Rev. Billy Graham, the magnetic, movie-star-handsome preacher who became a singular force in postwar American religious life, a confidant of presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, has died. He was 9...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Forecast: Warm weather persists in Tampa Bay, but slightly cooler weekend ahead

Forecast: Warm weather persists in Tampa Bay, but slightly cooler weekend ahead

Tampa Bay has broken record high temperatures since Monday, and Thursday should be no different.Happy Thursday! We are rolling through the week and once again temperatures will be near record highs this afternoon. If we break the record high of 85° t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Grapefruit League 2018 day-by-day schedule

Grapefruit League 2018 day-by-day schedule

Here is the 2018 day-by-day Grapefruit League schedule. Check out the Tampa Bay Times’ 2018 Spring Training Guide for stadium locations, contact information, team-by-team schedules, ticket information and more.Thursday, Feb. 22U. of Tampa vs. Philade...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Man rescued after boat swept away, capsizes in Little Manatee River

Man rescued after boat swept away, capsizes in Little Manatee River

RUSKIN — A man was rescued early Thursday morning after Hillsborough County deputies say his boat was swept away by a strong tide and capsized in the Little Manatee River.According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, a 911 call was received ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
The Daystarter: Rubio taken to task; Romano on the GOP lobby; St. Pete’s World Liquors sign finds new home; what if Rays know what they’re doing?

The Daystarter: Rubio taken to task; Romano on the GOP lobby; St. Pete’s World Liquors sign finds new home; what if Rays know what they’re doing?

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.• Temperatures peaked Wednesday, but don’t expect cooler air to return just yet. Highs will remain in the mid 80s through next week, according to 10Weather WTSP. And it will re...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Romano: Welcome to Florida, a state more afraid of conversation than guns

Romano: Welcome to Florida, a state more afraid of conversation than guns

Gun advocates are absolutely right about this:A ban on assault weapons will not end school shootings.How do we know?Because there was a federal ban on assault weapons for 10 years, and mass killings persisted. That’s because a ban deals only with fut...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Supercross brings athletes — not just motorcycle riders — to Tampa

Supercross brings athletes — not just motorcycle riders — to Tampa

TAMPA — When breaking down the competitive skill in Saturday night’s Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship Series event at Raymond James Stadium, you won’t find an analysis of 40-yard dash times, bench-press weights or vertical-leap measurements...
Published: 02/22/18

Ernest Hooper: Andrew Young, in Tampa for award, holds up crown of inspiration at 85

Theologian and Morehouse College graduate Howard Thurman, a man who influenced many of the nation’s civil rights leaders, once issued a challenge to students at the famed Atlanta school.Over the heads of her students, Morehouse holds a crown that she...
Published: 02/22/18