NEW PORT RICHEY — The city is embarking on a new grant program through its Community Redevelopment Agency in an effort to spark large-scale redevelopment of its aging commercial real estate stock.
During a meeting Tuesday night, the New Port Richey City Council, acting as the city's CRA, unanimously approved a plan dubbed the Commercial Real Estate Redevelopment Grant Program, geared toward offering economic incentives to investors in projects of $500,000 or more.
The city seeks to offer a dollar of CRA money for every $4 of private investment in a project, with a 20 percent cap on a project's overall cost, according to a memo presented to the agency by city economic development director Mario Iezzoni. The grant money would come from property taxes levied in the community redevelopment district, which covers nearly the entire city.
Iezzoni wrote that the grant program is needed because the "commercial building stock has aged considerably," and many existing owners have been reluctant to make improvements to their property, especially in important downtown space that remains vacant and out of code. Iezzoni identified nearly 90,000 square feet of commercial, warehouse and medical space downtown and in the Marine Parkway area that could be eligible for grants.
There will be four targeted grant categories, according to Iezzoni's report:
• Commercial repairs/improvements: These grants will be geared toward properties that are big, vacant and deteriorating. Improvements can include new air conditioning, utilities, roofs or other needs to meet code requirements.
• Commercial/business facade: This category will be restricted to exterior improvements of a commercial property, including new windows, doors, masonry work, lighting and Americans with Disabilities Act improvements.
• Commercial/business leasehold improvements: This category is geared toward interior improvements to bring in multiple or anchor tenants. Work could include ceilings, painting and flooring.
• Job creation and retention: These grants will be offered to anchor tenants over the terms of their leases if they reach job creation and employment retention benchmarks.
Those seeking the grants will be subject to scrutiny by the city. Each applicant must submit a site plan and business narrative describing prospective investments, the report states. Each applicant will also come before the CRA board for approval of grant funds, which sat well with Mayor Rob Marlowe, who said he is always in favor of having more economic development options in the "toolbox."