Hillsborough approves deal for $100M in downtown development funds

Published Oct. 16, 2014

TAMPA — One vote down. One to go.

On Wednesday, Hillsborough County commissioners unanimously approved a proposal designed to do two big things.

First, it would steer more property tax revenues generated within Tampa's downtown community redevelopment area, or CRA, to county government.

Also, it would set aside up to $100 million in city and county funds to support high-profile downtown redevelopment projects over the next three decades.

The deal comes via the renewal of CRAs for seven areas inside the city of Tampa, including downtown, the Channel District, Ybor City and east Tampa.

Along with extending the life of several CRAs, commissioners agreed to the creation of an eighth in West Tampa. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the changes on Oct. 23.

The 870-acre downtown CRA generates the most money, about $15 million a year.

Currently, most of the $15 million is used to repay bonds for the Tampa Convention Center. Next year, though, that debt will be paid off.

Since the 1980s, the county has agreed to turn over all its share of downtown redevelopment funds to the city to use on CRA projects.

Under the proposed renewal, the downtown CRA would be extended through 2043, but the county's total contribution to future CRA projects would be capped at $50 million, matched by a like amount from the city.

Not only that, but county money would be committed only after city and county officials entered into a separate redevelopment project agreement, to be negotiated by May.

The project agreement would spell out the agreed-upon uses for the money. If there was no agreement reached, the county would not contribute any of its share of the downtown redevelopment funds.

During the proposed 28-year term of the extension, the county has estimated that it would expect to keep at least $280 million more than it gets under its current agreement with the city.

First in line for CRA funds is expected to be Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's much-discussed plan for a new downtown entertainment district. Vinik's properties, except for Channelside Bay Plaza, are in the downtown CRA.

Vinik and University of South Florida administrators have been talking about including a new building for USF's College of Medicine as part of the project, and Commissioner Sandra Murman said she hopes they will.

Another possibility: that CRA funds could pay for infrastructure needed for a downtown Tampa baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, assuming they move out of St. Petersburg.

CRA funds must be spent in the area where they are generated. They can pay to build or realign roads, improve drainage, water and sewer, provide parking or landscaping, or do other infrastructure projects needed to facilitate private development.