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Council gives cool reception to mayor's downtown plan

Charlie Miranda says he would like to see the northern end of downtown Tampa come back to life as much as the next guy, but not at taxpayer expense.

With that in mind, Miranda and several City Council members gave a skeptical reception Thursday to Mayor Dick Greco's proposed use of federal funds to help finance the redevelopment of the Kress block on N Franklin Street and the construction of a parking garage.

The problem is that if the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ever foreclosed on the $10.5-million loan, the city would have to repay it using federal community development grants.

The city gets about $5-million a year in community development funds and uses the grants for sidewalks, park improvements, economic development and a variety of projects.

"We are truly putting at risk some of our (Community Development Block Grant) dollars," council member Bob Buckhorn said. "If these things go belly-up, we run the risk of a lot of good projects out there taking a hit."

The Kress block sits across Florida Avenue from the new federal courthouse and is now home to three historic but mostly vacant stores _ the 68-year-old Kress, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as the Woolworth and the Newberry buildings.

As proposed, the Doran Jason Group of Tampa would renovate all three buildings into up to 70 apartment lofts, plus office space, stores, restaurants or bars, or a health club.

The city would use $4.5-million of the HUD loan to secure a second mortgage for the project, which would encompass 147,900 square feet. The Doran Jason group would get a $2.873-million conventional loan for the rest of the project.

City officials also hope to use up to $6.47-million from the federal loan to help the Doran Jason Group build a parking garage with up to 1,500 spaces.

The key question is how much of their own money will developers be willing to put at risk.

City director of business and community services Fernando Noriega said developers have discussed having $3.5-million in equity in the Kress project, but he conceded that no formal development agreement will be negotiated until after the city applies for the HUD loan.

Miranda and council member Rudy Fernandez said they will need evidence that developers stand to lose their own money before they can sign off on the project.

"If it's not there, then I can't look at it favorably," Miranda said. "I don't want to stop development, but on the other hand, I don't want to put the citizens of the city of Tampa at risk even for one cent."

A second public hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. March 27.