Winter Park exploring business incentive program
After receiving a proposal from the Hideaway Station development asking for an enhanced sales tax incentive plan (ESTIP), the Town of Winter Park is now exploring how it incentivizes businesses to develop in the area.
At the Aug. 21 town meeting, Chip Besse, a principal of Hideaway Station, proposed an ESTIP that would have allowed the developing company to recapture 4 percent of the 7 percent sales tax generated by retail sales up to $1.8 million.
Besse said the goal of the proposed ESTIP is to help attract new businesses to the area and, therefore, help the local economy. Right now, half of the 12,000 square feet of commercial space available at Hideaway Station has been leased.
“Our goal as a developer on that site was to increase the taxable revenues for the Town of Winter Park by creating more retail opportunities,” Besse said.
Currently, the town does offer a special tax incentive plans for individual businesses to apply for, but not for developers. Interim town manager Stan Zemler said that he’s not aware of any businesses utilizing the ESTIP the town offers.
“The difference here that we’ve been struggling with is the development company, in the midst of its development, is asking the town to step into this program and we’ve not done anything like this so it’s been hard to find a path,” Zemler said.
The Hideaway Station plan would recapture the sales tax on behalf of Winter Park Development Co LLC. Mayor Jimmy Lahrman said the town was not able to accept this plan because the town counsel advised it wouldn’t be legally possible, particularly because the request came after the project began and the approval of the development plan.
However, because of Besse’s proposal, the town is currently looking into a program directed at developers, but it’s unclear what that plan would look like and what its goal would be.
“How do you structure something that either rewards the business that comes or rewards the developer that brings the business, so I think we are struggling with it,” Zemler said. “When you’re developing a policy, where’s the beginning and where’s the end? If the Town of Winter Park decides we’re going to do this for this developer, then what about the next five developers?”
It’s also unclear how an ESTIP directed at developers would affect existing businesses, Zemler said.
The town also offers a grant program for updates to existing businesses, such as improving storefronts or landscaping, and this program has been utilized by local businesses.
Zemler said the town has made efforts to make the area attractive to new businesses through marketing campaigns, investing almost $1 million in events, housing projects, investing in transit and introducing a new town master plan.
“I think all of these things the town is doing in increments are all the kinds of things that will eventually attract more and different businesses,” he said. “You have to work within the thing that makes Winter Park unique.”
Town staff expects to have a special tax incentive program community concept to present to the town council by mid-month.
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