Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

PolitiFact Florida | Tampa Bay Times
Sorting out the truth in local politics

Clearwater aquarium funding claim not true

On Tuesday, Clearwater voters will decide whether the city charter should be amended to allow officials to begin negotiations with the nonprofit Clearwater Marine Aquarium for a lease of city-owned property downtown where a $160.5 million aquarium could eventually be built.

Supporters and opponents have filled mailboxes with rival fliers touting the benefits or risks of the idea.

One recent flier paid for by the Friends of Clearwater political action committee, which opposes the aquarium idea, lists eight reasons to vote no.

One particular reason in the list caught our eye: "NO future funding for our neighborhoods."

PolitiFact Florida decided to fact-check the claim that if the referendum passes, there will be no future funding for Clearwater neighborhoods.

Officials we spoke with said the statement is false, and even opponents admit it is based on speculation.

"That's just a bizarre statement," said Howard Warshauer, a longtime activist and vice president of the Clearwater Neighborhoods Coalition. Warshauer opposes the aquarium plan, but said the mailer's cut-and-dried claim is inaccurate.

"Obviously, the city will go on funding neighborhoods," he said.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium officials have said they intend to ask for city funds from two sources if the plan to build the aquarium advances: the city parking fund and a portion of taxes raised in the downtown Community Redevelopment Area.

The city parking fund isn't typically used for neighborhood projects, which are things such as parks, recreation facilities, traffic calming and community policing. The city uses the parking fund for parking projects and Clearwater Beach lifeguards. The city is planning to use parking fund money to build a downtown parking garage — a project which presumably would benefit the downtown neighborhood.

What about the aquarium's potential use of property taxes raised in the downtown CRA? Would that mean "No future funding for our neighborhoods"?

The money the aquarium wants would come from the annual tax increment raised in the district. The tax increment is new tax revenue collected if property values rise after the date the district is established. This year, that was $1.7 million in the downtown Clearwater district.

CMA plans to ask the city for half of that increment revenue for 20 years, but would need the agreement of city and county officials.

By state law, that money can't be spent outside the boundaries of the district, which are roughly Drew Street on the north, the waterfront to the west, Chestnut Street to the south and Highland Avenue to the east. So Countryside, Island Estates, Sand Key, Morningside Estates or any other neighborhood outside the district wouldn't be eligible for that money anyway.

But Warshauer says a broader argument about the proposed aquarium's financial impact on neighborhoods has some validity.

"There is an unknown factor here. How much money is going to be spent on traffic impact if this aquarium is built and if it is successful?" Warshauer said.

CMA officials contend that a successful aquarium will increase property values downtown, therefore pouring more tax increment revenue into city coffers and helping to pay for any infrastructure improvements downtown necessitated by a successful tourist attraction.

Tina Wilson, the city's budget director, said the city has $1.8 million budgeted for street resurfacing citywide. If streets needed to be improved because so many people were drawn to the aquarium, the costs could be paid for out of the resurfacing fund, any available tax increment revenue, or a variety of other funds, including reserves, the Penny for Pinellas sales tax or the general fund. But the city hasn't discussed options yet, Wilson said.

No one, including referendum opponents, has a crystal ball to predict what the city will spend in future years for neighborhood projects or for downtown improvements.

But since the aquarium plan is to seek only half of the increment revenue, and only for 20 years, the remaining half of that revenue would theoretically remain available for projects benefitting the downtown neighborhood.

And use of those dollars downtown wouldn't hurt other neighborhoods in the city, since those dollars can't legally be spent elsewhere.

There is no proof that approval of Tuesday's referendum — which would only authorize the city to negotiate a lease and doesn't ensure construction of the aquarium — will mean no future funding for Clearwater neighborhoods. The opponents' statement is based on speculation, with no foundation in fact.

We rate it False.

Charlie Frago can be reached at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago.

The statement

Passage of a referendum on an aquarium for Clearwater means "NO future funding for our neighborhoods."

Friends of Clearwater political action committee, in a flier

The ruling

The money the aquarium wants would come from the annual tax increment raised in the downtown district. And those dollars spent downtown wouldn't hurt other neighborhoods in the city, since those dollars can't legally be spent elsewhere. We rate the claim False.

Clearwater aquarium funding claim not true 11/01/13 [Last modified: Friday, November 1, 2013 7:16pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. A second mistrial: Jury deadlocks in Ohio cop's murder retrial

    Nation

    CINCINNATI — A mistrial was declared Friday in the murder retrial of a white University of Cincinnati police officer after the jury said it was hopelessly deadlocked on charges in the fatal traffic stop shooting of an unarmed black motorist.

    Former University of Cincinnati police officer Raymond Tensing, left, and his attorney Stew Mathews listen as Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Leslie Ghiz tells the jury to continue deliberations after the jury said they are deadlocked during Tensing's trial on Friday in Cincinnati. [AP photo]
  2. SI ranks Quinton Flowers on top 100, above Deondre Francois

    Blogs

    Sports Illustrated's ongoing countdown of the top 100 players in college football includes some high praise for USF quarterback Quinton Flowers.

  3. What to watch this weekend: 'GLOW,' second season of 'Preacher'

    Blogs

    Ready to rumble: GLOW

    Four words: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Yes, the fluorescent, body-slamming soap opera GLOW starring a cast of exaggerated characters is back, this time as a fictionalized Netflix series. Alison Brie (Community, Mad Men) stars as Ruth, a down-on-her-luck actor …

    Alison Brie, left, and Betty Gilpin in GLOW on Netflix.
  4. Exploratory Lab Boot Camp provides real-life technology training to students

    Science

    CLEARWATER — At this graduation ceremony featuring some of the brightest local minds in tech, it was the youngsters who stood out.

    Laszlo Leedy, 17, a senior at Shorecrest Prep, presents part of his team's project for SPC's Exploratory Lab Boot Camp. Students presented their ideas at the end of the SPC Exploratory Lab Boot Camp. The program provides real-time business training to students. This year's graduation celebrated 15 students that finished the program. 
[JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  5. Editorial: Trump, not military, should set troop levels in Afghanistan

    Editorials

    There is no task more solemn for any American president than the decision to send troops off to war. In delegating authority over troops levels in Afghanistan to the Pentagon, President Donald Trump has shirked his obligation to own and defend his Afghan policy, while further divorcing America's military strategy there …