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Mall paves way for road work money

The deal allows the work to be done now and the developer to be reimbursed with county impact fees as others move into the area.

By BILL COATS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 3, 2002

CITRUS PARK -- Thanks to an unusual arrangement with Hillsborough County, the builder of the Citrus Mall also is becoming a builder of roads.

Nearly half of the county government's most important road projects in northwest Hillsborough -- 5.3 miles of road work -- will be built by the mall developers as the mall itself goes up. Meanwhile, the county is to gradually reimburse the developers for the work, using impact fees paid by other developments in the area.

That's a flip-flop of tradition. Previously, the government has built the roads, and in recent years, been reimbursed afterward by the developers' impact fees.

County officials say the arrangement will relieve roads that might have only worsened for more than a decade.

"They're barely supporting the development that's out there now," said Steve Valdez, spokesman for county engineering and construction services. "You almost have gridlock there a couple of times a day."

While completion of the Veterans Expressway eased the projected mall impact, that effect still will be huge. Brandon TownCenter, a smaller mall than what's planned in Citrus Park, attracted 10-million visitors in its first year.

Road gridlock could have stalled the mall project because of "concurrency," a relatively new requirement that no major development be allowed unless roads and other infrastructures are in place to support it.

"Based on our cash-flow forecasting, we wouldn't build those roads until 2010," said Ed Hunzeker, the assistant county administrator for financial services.

Hunzeker said the roads were the county's highest priority in northwest Hillsborough but weren't as urgent as those clogging up around the Brandon mall.

The work is divided in three parts:

Widening Sheldon Road to four divided lanes from Linebaugh Avenue to Gunn Highway.

Widening Gunn to four divided lanes from Sheldon to Lynn Turner Road.

Rebuilding and realigning Paglen Road from Sheldon to Gunn.

Aside from the mall deal, the county also is widening Ehrlich Road to four lanes north of the site, from Gunn to Lynn Turner.

The Citrus Mall road work is expected to cost about $30-million, which the developer, Urban Retail Properties Co., will borrow at tax-exempt rates in an arrangement with the county.

The county's reimbursement will include most interest costs. But Urban will have to swallow road costs equal to the impact fees it would have paid on the development, which are projected at $6-million to $8-million. The reimbursement process could consume the impact fees the county collects from almost all northwest Hillsborough developments for 10 to 20 years, depending on interest rates and the amount of development in the area.

Hunzeker said the deal will accomplish the work quicker than the county could do it, while sparing the county from hiring more road work administrators and from borrowing $30-million.

It's the first case in which Hunzeker has been able to fulfill a personal goal: to privatize major county projects.

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