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Tampa okays deal on downtown redevelopment cash

Published Oct. 27, 2014

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners took just 10 minutes last week to approve an agreement renewing Tampa's community redevelopment areas.

On Thursday, the City Council signed off on the same deal, but spent a lot more time talking about it.

Several council members disliked the scope, timing, terms or historical background of the agreement, which will limit future county contributions to downtown redevelopment efforts.

One council member said the city's hands were tied because of a vote by a previous council in 2003. Another wanted to consider parts of the agreement separately.

"I'm not going to vote for it," said Mary Mulhern, who didn't. "It needs to go back to the county without West Tampa in it."

But city and county officials cautioned there was no guarantee that county commissioners would agree to any changes that the city tried to make.

Moreover, there was the possibility raised that the commission, if asked to reconsider, could walk away altogether, costing the city millions of dollars in redevelopment revenue.

"I wouldn't want to put in jeopardy everything that's listed here on ultimately what is a crap shoot," council member Harry Cohen said. "If you reject this agreement, it is going to go back to scratch."

Finally, officials said re-opening negotiations could have created delays that would cost the city some redevelopment revenues.

So, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, six council members voted yes.

"I will not be a roadblock to success even though I may not like all of it," Charlie Miranda said. "I understand who has the hammer, and that I am the nail."

Immediately after their approval, council members took a second vote to try to revisit one part of the agreement in the near future: the creation of a new community redevelopment area, or CRA, in West Tampa.

That came after several residents and business representatives pleaded with the council to redraw the new West Tampa CRA so that its southern boundary went all the way to Kennedy Boulevard.

"We need the line brought down so we can get part of this money put back into our area, specifically for flooding," North Hyde Park civic leader Wesley Weissenburger said. (The request was not unanimous: The West Tampa Chamber of Commerce said it was happy with the proposed CRA, including its boundaries.)

Because the County Commission already had signed off on a boundary that went no further south than Cass Street as part of the larger agreement, council members opted approve that for now, with plans to try to move it in coming months.

In addition to the new West Tampa CRA, the city has existing CRAs in seven parts of the city, including downtown, the Channel District, Ybor City and East Tampa.

The downtown CRA creates the most redevelopment revenue — about $15 million a year in property taxes generated by new growth inside the 870-acre district.

Those are now used to repay bonds on the Tampa Convention Center. But after that debt is paid off in late 2015, millions of dollars a year will come available for something else.

Since the 1980s, the county has contributed 100 percent of its share of the downtown redevelopment revenues to the city for use on CRA projects.

Going forward under the new agreement, the county's total contribution to future CRA projects will be capped at no more than $50 million through 2043.

Not only that, but the city must match the county's contribution, and the money will be committed only after city and county officials enter into a separate project agreement to be negotiated by May 1.

The project agreement will specify the agreed-upon uses for the money. If no agreement is reached, the county will not contribute any of its share of the downtown redevelopment funds.

"We'll probably be fairly expansive in the scope just to make sure we cover potential opportunities," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said of the project agreement.

For example, he said, something like an expanded transit system "would probably be incorporated into it."

Through 2043, the county estimates it will keep at least $280 million more in downtown redevelopment revenue than it would have kept under the terms of the deal it signed in the 1980s.

In other words, if the downtown CRA had been continued on its previous terms — all for the city, none for the county — officials say Tampa could have expected to receive an estimated $660 million over the next 28 years for redevelopment projects.

Instead, under the new deal, the county now will keep at least $280 million of that total.

That still leaves an estimated $380 million for CRA projects over a 28-year period.

And of that $380 million, $100 million would come from the city and the county together, each contributing half, for the agreed-upon downtown projects. (Other projects the city can decide to pay for itself.)

CRA funds must be spent in the area where they are generated. They also are restricted to certain uses, such as building or realigning roads, improving drainage, water and sewer service, providing parking or landscaping, or doing other infrastructure projects to facilitate private development.

In 2011, Tampa officials had indicated that future CRA funds could, in theory, be spent on infrastructure needed by a new downtown stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

But recently Buckhorn has said the city is likely to get an infrastructure request first from Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

Vinik has assembled 24 acres around Amalie Arena with plans to create an entertainment district and a possible home for the University of South Florida's new medical school building. Vinik's properties, except for the Channelside Bay Plaza complex, are in the downtown CRA.

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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