A local bill that would make the Jeff Vinik-led Water Street Tampa development a “stewardship district” was passed by the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation at its meeting Friday in Plant City.
But first, state Sen. Tom Lee said the bill needed additional vetting before becoming law.
Such special districts aren’t out of the ordinary; the Legislature created two last year – the Sunbridge Special District and one in East Nassau – explained state Sen. Dana Young, who was tasked with presenting the somewhat obtuse bill in the absence of its sponsor, Republican Rep. Jamie Grant.
Special districts allow developers (here that’s Vinik’s Strategic Property Partners and Bill Gates‘ Cascade Investment) to essentially tax themselves as the only commercial property owners in the district. It specifically excludes residential owners in the district.
The developer can then use those taxes to “install, operate and maintain upscale amenities and infrastructure within the district that are far above and beyond what the city of Tampa would be able to do,” Young said, adding that they would be able to do so at no cost to Tampa taxpayers.
Although not listed in the bill, Young says the amenities could include bus shelters, enhanced landscaping and bike paths.
Tampa resident Beth Eriksen Shoup questioned the motivation for the developers to tax themselves, asking if they were doing it as a write-off.
Young replied that the developers were doing it to access the tax-free municipal bond market, just as other municipal cities, county or Community Redevelopment Areas do.
While most of the local delegation had nothing but platitudes to offer about how great the project will ultimately be, Lee suggested that this local bill was more complex than most.
“We are granting some very sweeping power here to this special district,” said Lee.
Referring to how items like “eminent domain” were listed in the wordy bill, he admitted he didn’t understand why they were included in the legislation but said he wouldn’t attempt to block it at this early stage.
A longtime real estate and development executive, Lee said he understood why the developers wanted to become a stewardship district as opposed to a community redevelopment district (CDD). He said that the Water Street Tampa project would be “transformational,” but said he wanted to make sure, as the Senate Chairman of the Community Affairs Committee, that he’d be able to work with Grant on the bill.
“I’d really like the chance to scrub it,” he said, adding “it’s a lot to absorb on the fly.”
State Sen. Darryl Rouson said he shared some of Lee’s concerns, but said most of them had been allayed by meeting privately with the developers.
“I’m confident that any bugs will be swatted before we pass it on the floor,” he said.
The $3 billion, 50-acre Water Street Tampa district will include more than 9 million square feet of development when it is completed. The developers unveiled renderings of the first residential properties last week. They include a 26-story condominium tower and a 21-story rental tower.