Council OKs $168k tax incentive for company moving to Clearwater

The city council also will waive $60,000 in fees for a new office parking deck on McCormick Drive.
CLEARWATER — The city council has agreed to waive fees and offer a tax incentive to lure a St. Petersburg-based insurance company and to encourage the expansion of a parking deck at an office park on U.S. 19.
The city plans to exempt Heritage Property & Casualty Insurance Co. from an estimated $168,472 in real and tangible property taxes over 10 years.
In return, Heritage will move its headquarters to an office building on McCormick Drive next year, bringing along 54 jobs and proposing to create 11 positions with an average annual salary of $87,000.
Heritage made news last year by donating $110,000 to a political committee that Gov. Rick Scott controls, according to The Tampa Tribune, before the company was awarded a deal potentially worth more than $50 million with the state-run and taxpayer-funded Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
Heritage’s sister company, Skye Lane Properties, LLC, owns the Prestige Place office complex at 2600 & 2650 McCormick Drive. The city council passed a resolution approving waivers and reimbursements up to $60,000 for fees, including the application and building permits, inspections and examinations, associated with the parking area improvements.
Sky Lane plans to invest $6.1 million in the property by constructing a parking deck for the building’s tenants. That includes current tenant AmeriLife and future occupant MarineMax, which plans to relocate from its U.S. 19 headquarters and bring 99 employees with it.
In return, the city gets the benefit of a new business that will call Clearwater its headquarters and an office complex with more than adequate parking for tenants, a rare find along U.S. 19.
While the council agreed with staff recommendations, there were some questions during a work session last week about waiving city fees.
“Explain to me that if we approve this, there will be no fees that they (Skye Lane) will have to pay now for this work?” Mayor George Cretekos asked.
Denise Sanderson, the city’s assistant director for economic development and housing, replied, “We are requesting fee waivers and reimbursements for all parking-related improvements up to $60,000. If it exceeds $60,000, they will pay anything in excess of $60,000.”
The mayor then asked if such waivers would be available to applicants in other areas of the city.
“My difficulty is how did you arrive at $60,000?” he said.
Sanderson explained that through an analysis of the proposed investment by both Skye Lane and Heritage, the projected total countywide economic impact would be close to $134.9 million. That includes $109.8 million in salaries (direct and indirect jobs) and $20.4 million in taxable sales and purchases.
“I was trying to draw a distinction between this project and the average person coming into our building department asking for waivers,” the mayor added.
“Well they don’t have $135 million economic impact; but if they do, we’ll talk,” Councilman Paul Gibson countered.
Sanderson further explained the city is attempting to set the stage for future business development along U.S. 19 and the tax exemption program involved in the Heritage deal is specifically designed to create capital investment and high-value, high-wage jobs.
If the city didn’t offer such incentives, it would hamper Clearwater’s effort to attract other high-wage jobs to U.S. 19, where businesses paying such salaries and expansive parking structures are lacking, she said.
“The (new) parking deck could serve as a catalyst for additional investments by other property owners along U.S. 19 that face similar challenges,” she said.
City attorney Pam Akin told the council that the Community Redevelopment Agency has waived fees and offered other incentives to businesses in the downtown.
“It is possible through the CRA that you would choose to incentivize such a project,” she said.  
Last Thursday, the council took its second and final vote to approve the deal with Heritage and Skye Lane.
 Editor Jane Bongo contributed to this story.
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