Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Opinion

Midtown poised for economic boost with tax district, SPC expansion

Signs of growth and renewal continue to come from the greater Midtown area.

A recent move by the Pinellas County Commission could have a more significant impact. The board recently gave initial approval for the creation of a tax increment financing district for Midtown.

The program reserves property taxes from an area to spur economic development in that same area.

Created by the state Legislature to help economically depressed neighborhoods, the district designation has historically been awarded to downtown areas. Here in the Sunshine City, TIFs have benefited the Mahaffey, BayWalk, the Salvador Dalí Museum and the Pier.

So if the TIF gets final approval, it will mark the first time the district will be awarded to an area like one the Legislature initially intended, albeit some 40 years later.

Commissioner Ken Welch and community activists Lou Brown III and Gypsy Gallardo have been working for some time to get the county to approve the program.

"This is really the beginning of putting some bones on the idea," said St. Petersburg council member Karl Nurse, who has been working with leaders in his district for years.

"As the area comes back, the increase of city and county taxes goes in the fund to help the area. It requires a 20-year plan. Initially the funds are modest, but over time it could grow into the millions," he said.

The next step is for the city's economic development department to come up with a plan. That plan, in the form of a progress report, will then go to City Council.

When the plan is complete, it must go to the County Commission for final approval.

There are other signs of long-term growth.

In recent weeks the city and the board of trustees at St. Petersburg College have made moves that will ensure long-term economic development in the area.

In January, the trustees voted to move forward with plans to quadruple the size of the 10,000-square-foot Midtown campus. That plan calls for the college to lease 3.74 acres of city land to build a 45,000-square-foot facility for the Midtown Education Center at 22nd Street and 13th Avenue S, near the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Health Center.

Two weeks ago, the board of trustees shored up those plans by voting to fund the project. The next step is to create a selection committee to choose a contractor. That move came with a few stipulations from the board.

"Great efforts should be made to ensure minority participation in the construction of the project," said board member Terry Brett.

"I hope that the selection committee will require that at least 30 percent of the subcontractors be minority contractors," he said, adding that members of the Midtown community should also be on the selection committee. That four-person committee will be selected in coming weeks.

Local Day of Service gains momentum

There appears to be an update on the monthslong rift between state Rep. Darryl Rouson and Sevell Brown over the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.

As you may recall, Rouson secured a $500,000 legislative appropriation to encourage groups to do service projects that day. Brown balked at the suggestion of moving the parade to the Saturday before the holiday.

Rouson is now collaborating with St. Petersburg College to implement a Day of Service. The National Day of Service was created in 1994. But the St. Petersburg effort comes with a few perks, namely the hiring of 20 youth coordinators and $100,000.

Neighborhoods, churches, sororities, businesses and other groups can apply for up to $10,000 in grants to support a service project. Projects can support education, health, clean energy, economic development, disaster preparedness, veterans and military families, public safety and neighborhoods.

"We are the pilot for the entire state on a project of this magnitude," Rouson said. "Hopefully, this will morph into something like the MLK 365 project in Philadelphia, which is year-round."

The funding is designed to stimulate people to do service, he said.

A series of information sessions will be held in coming weeks for groups interested in applying for the grants. The deadline is Dec. 4. For information, call (727) 341-4121 or (727) 341-4130.

Sandra J. Gadsden can be reached at [email protected] or at (727) 893-8874 and on Twitter @StPeteSandi.

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