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Tampa Community Redevelopment Agency votes to start shutting down Channel District redevelopment area

City Council members also approved capping a similar area in downtown, saying money should be spent in poorer areas.
Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson led the effort Thursday to shut down two redevelopment areas that have become much more wealthy in the last decade: downtown and the Channel District.
Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson led the effort Thursday to shut down two redevelopment areas that have become much more wealthy in the last decade: downtown and the Channel District. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Jun. 11, 2020|Updated Jun. 11, 2020

TAMPA — The Tampa City Council, sitting as board members of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, voted Thursday to make the first move to gradually shut down or cap redevelopment areas in two formerly blighted areas that are now thriving: the Channel District and Downtown.

The board voted 6-0 to make a plan to sunset the Channel District in fiscal year 2022, which would free up nearly $3.6 million in estimated city funds that council member Bill Carlson, who made the motion, said would be better spent in poorer areas like East Tampa, Sulphur Springs and North Tampa.

“Now with the community demanding changes, this is money better spent to help. We have rats in community centers in East Tampa,” Carlson said after the meeting, referring to reports of rodent infestations at the Fair Oaks Community Center.

That money, unless needed to complete existing projects, would go back into the city’s general fund. The county would get back a nearly equal amount. The city’s port would also receive about $70,000 currently spent within the boundaries of the Channel District’s redevelopment area.

Both the Channel District and Downtown have been designated as blighted for many years, despite an economic boom that transformed both areas since the end of the last recession. City officials have credited their renaissance, in part, to both area having been designated as blighted. The downtown area was created in 1983. The Channel District designation dates from 2003.

Council member John Dingfelder was absent from the meeting, where his colleagues also voted 6-0 to explore a cap on the revenues collected and spent on the Downtown redevelopment area. The amount of money at play in the downtown redevelopment area isn’t immediately known. That will become clear when city officials do a budget analysis before reporting back to the redevelopment board on July 23.

According to the city’s 2019 annual activity report, the Downtown area had $18.1 million in its accounts. The Channel District had about $17.7 million.

Much of that money has already been promised to existing projects, city officials said Thursday.

Although some council members worried about possible legal ramifications, no one opposed the initial move to wind down the two redevelopment areas.

“The sentiment is certainly something I can get behind,” said Luis Viera.

Shutting down, or sunsetting, the city’s Channel District and Downtown redevelopment areas has been a rallying cry for many in the city who want more resources directed to still struggling neighborhoods in East Tampa, West Tampa and North Tampa.

Those voices have been amplified greatly in the last few weeks as protests decrying the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police have broadened to include calls for city resources to be dedicated to the city’s predominantly black neighborhoods.

The downtown area has been seen as a possible source of money for a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark. And Channel District redevelopment dollars have supported infrastructure improvements related to Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s $3 billion Water Street development.

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Jeff Vinik is part of FBN Partners, a group of local investors who have loaned $15 million to Times Publishing Co., which owns the Tampa Bay Times.

Controlling the direction — and the millions of dollars — of the city’s eight development areas has been a pressure point between council members and Mayor Jane Castor for more than a year, although tensions have died down in recent months.

Related: City Council and Castor battle over control of redevelopment areas

The city’s redevelopment area director, Michelle Van Loan, said the City Council will have to approve the plan voted on by its members who sat as the redevelopment board today. That would happen sometime after the July 23 redevelopment agency board meeting.

Carlson, who represents South Tampa, said his own district also suffers under the current arrangement as the wealthier redevelopment areas like Channel District and Downtown don’t pay their fair share in property taxes. South Tampa doesn’t have a redevelopment area so it bears a greater burden of paying for city services like police and fire protection, he said.

Under the state law authorizing community redevelopment areas, property taxes are frozen at the level of the year they’re created. As the area develops and generates more tax revenue, the excess is ploughed back into the redevelopment area for infrastructure improvements instead of going into the city’s general fund.

To unwind the redevelopment areas, the city will have to negotiate new interlocal agreements with Hillsborough County and the Port of Tampa. Neither are expected to be troublesome as shutting them down will allow more tax dollars to flow back into county and port coffers.

The City Council, in its role as the redevelopment agency board, has final say on the city’s redevelopment areas. Castor has spoken in favor of redirecting dollars from those redevelopment areas, most recently last fall, said her spokeswoman Ashley Bauman.

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