Council tentatively approves MarineMax tax exemption despite landlord's objections

A spokesperson for the landlord disagrees with the boat dealership's reason for wanting to move its U.S. 19 headquarters.
CLEARWATER – MarineMax, considered the nation's largest recreational boat and yacht retailer, wants to relocate its headquarters from 18167 U.S. 19 N. to a bigger facility just a few miles up the road, and it tentatively has won a property tax exemption over the next five years to help facilitate the move.
But a spokesperson for the company's landlord, A H C Metro Harbourside LLC, according to Pinellas County property records, asked the city council to deny the request because, he said, there are no grounds for MarineMax to relocate.
After noting he had little time to prepare his argument, Bruce Reid last Thursday requested a continuance of the issue until the next council meeting in January.
“We learned of this yesterday afternoon from a press release, so I'm not prepared to advance a full argument for your consideration,” Reid said. “I'm here to ask you please to defer handling this matter to allow us as a taxpayer in the town the opportunity to prepare ourselves to make an argument to you.
“We believe there are factual errors on which you've based this decision from a very brief abstraction of the videotape of your work session. We believe some of the answers you received, doubtless in good faith, were incorrect and would have conceivably led to you reaching a different decision.”
Reid was referring to the Dec. 16 workshop at which the exemption request originally was presented to the council in the form of a city ordinance.
According to documents presented to the city, MarineMax plans to invest more than $2 million in new furniture, fixtures and office equipment while adding 30 new employees over the next three years as part of its expansion.
As a result of this planned reinvestment in the community, MarineMax submitted an application to the city in November requesting an Economic Development Ad Valorem Tax Exemption of 50 percent on  tangible property taxes over the next five years, which would result in a savings of $18,661 between 2014 and 2018.
“Analysis shows that the project does provide net benefits, net positive contributions to the local economy, including a $37.5 million economic impact,” Denise Sanderson, the city's assistant director for economic development and housing, said in recommending that the council approve the ordinance.
While the figures presented in the findings weren't in question, Reid said the reasons MarineMax officials stated for wanting to relocate in the first place are unfounded.
“I spoke to our tenant today, and they understand that there may be a misunderstanding, because they fully recognize that there is ample space in the building for them,” he said. “The issue is that we have space in the building, and you were specifically told we don't have space in the building.”
The apparent miscommunication between the parties left some council members perplexed.
“I'm confused,” Vice Mayor Paul Gibson said. “Your tenant has indicated that they have properly evaluated everything, and I'm not sure how there could be such a communication error between you and your tenant.
“Your tenant made it very clear to us that it's either the location in question or outside the city of Clearwater. They have told us in writing that there is no alternative to moving, and that absent the location in Clearwater they're moving to, they'd move outside of Clearwater.”
“The tenant may believe these things, but that's not the issue here,” Reid countered. “The issue is the city council of Clearwater is about to take action based on your work session that we believe contains two factual errors.
“What is written here is not factually correct because we can accommodate the tenant on a single floor if we have to. That negotiation was ongoing and not completed.”
Despite the protest, the council last Thursday ended up approving MarineMax's request by a 5-0 vote on first reading, telling Reid he has a month to prepare to fight the proposed ordinance during its second and final reading on Jan. 16. If the council votes in favor of the measure a second time, it will be adopted as city law.
“Let me suggest that you spend the time in between … to talk and come to the meeting then, and we will be happy to hear you during that second reading,” Gibson said.
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