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Ybor City wants a slice of tax money now earmarked for downtown Tampa

TAMPA — A tug of war is shaping up between downtown and Ybor City.

The prize: A cut of the new property taxes that would be generated by the development of the Gas Worx — a multistory project proposed just north of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, next to Channelside Drive.

As it stands, a portion of the property taxes from that 8 acres is earmarked for projects to improve downtown Tampa.

That's because the site is inside Tampa's 870-acre downtown community redevelopment area. Inside a CRA, taxes generated by new growth in property values are dedicated to public works projects that support further development.

But Ybor City residents and business owners want the lines redrawn so that the Gas Worx land would be inside a CRA that covers part of the historic district. That way, some of the property taxes generated by the Gas Worx would go not to downtown, but to Ybor City improvement projects. City officials don't have an estimate of how much money could be in play.

Groups that include the Ybor City Development Corp., the Historic Ybor Neighborhood Civic Association and the East Ybor Historic & Civic Association want the revenue to pay for entryway improvements designed to be consistent with the rest of the historic district.

"We've been struggling for a long, long time," but now "there's a lot of good things going on and the CRA money could be a big help," longtime Ybor businessman Joseph Capitano Sr. said. "Taking it out of downtown is not going to affect them as much as it's going to help us in Ybor City."

Not surprisingly, an advisory committee for the downtown CRA this week voted to oppose the idea.

On Thursday, City Council members agreed to explore the idea, though Charlie Miranda said he felt it would be inappropriate to take money from one group and give it to another.

Others worried whether tinkering with CRA boundaries could affect tens of millions of dollars available for a wide range of high-priority downtown projects — among them Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's mega-development with Cascade Investment and transportation initiatives.

"What concerns me is opening up that can of worms," council member Lisa Montelione said.

Moving the Gas Worx property from the downtown to one of two Ybor City CRAs would mean less money for downtown projects.

If the move takes place, the value of the Gas Worx property would be reset. City attorneys have found no legal authority on whether moving the Gas Worx site would affect the base value of the rest of the downtown CRA.

The worst-case scenario — "unlikely as that may be," according to a memo from chief assistant city attorney Salvatore Territo — is that the base year for the downtown CRA could have to be reset from 1983, when the total value of downtown property was much lower, to the year when the boundaries are redrawn.

This year, the downtown CRA is expected to take in $9.9 million in property tax revenue generated by growth in property values since the base was set. Reset the base and that revenue would drop dramatically.

"That's the biggest issue for me," council member Mike Suarez.

The change also would be subject to negotiations with Hillsborough County, which receives a share of the property taxes from both the downtown and Ybor City CRAs.

In May, Gas Worx developer Donald Phillips proposed building two apartment towers 29 stories tall.

Since then, he has scaled down his plans to something more like two eight- or 10-story buildings, city economic opportunity administrator Bob McDonaugh said.

The 7.6 acres is owned by Peoples Gas. For decades, part of it was used as a gas plant. More recently, it also has been a propane-filling station for buses and an equipment yard.