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Business

City brainstorms on making most of downtown

Officials look for ways to rejuvenate the area by attracting businesses, generating revenue and limiting sprawl.

By MOLLY MOORHEAD
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 16, 2003


ZEPHYRHILLS -- There's no question: Matters of business, growth and development have grabbed the attention of city officials.

A committee, headed by city planner Todd Vande Berg, has begun meeting to discuss efforts to revitalize downtown while controlling sprawl. City Council members have decided that the best way to lure new business is to offer incentives. And they're keeping a close eye on the municipal airport, which is carrying more than $400,000 in debt but has the potential to generate a lot of revenue.

The city's master plan, developed last year by the University of South Florida, envisions a downtown district busy with shoppers and small businesses. Committee members will have to consider issues such as traffic control and building codes. And before any wrecking balls -- or investors -- get involved, they'll have to gauge the level of demand for space downtown.

But assuming there is interest in the business community, City Council members decided last year that their main bargaining tool was incentives. Those could include impact fee credits for water, sewer and transportation, building permit fee credits and city assistance in infrastructure, such as parking and stormwater management.

During tight budget times, the city also is searching for sources of revenue. Zephyrhills Municipal Airport is in the red now, but it turned a profit as recently as three years ago. With that in mind, council members approved money late last year to build two more T-hangars, in addition to two it had already okayed. The four covered airplane storage structures will cost the city about $228,000, with a state grant covering the rest.

Once they're completed and rented out to airplane owners, the hangars could generate about $42,000 in annual revenue, according to the city's financial analysis.

National companies have become more visible around town. Most notably, Wal-Mart opened a supercenter on the north edge of the city on U.S. 301 in September.

Already, it has lured other retailers that way. A shopping center is planned for the property adjacent to it and will include a Fashion Bug and Beef "O' Brady's. Construction nearby on a Chili's Grill & Bar is scheduled to begin soon, with opening scheduled for July.

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