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Politics

Hillsborough leaders divided on stretching USF enterprise zone

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Published:   |   Updated: September 18, 2013 at 09:26 AM

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TAMPA — A proposal to stretch a redevelopment area around the University of South Florida all the way down to southern Hillsborough County is creating friction on the county commission.

A proposed amendment to the boundaries of the University Area Enterprise Zone would extend its borders to include Palm River and Gibsonton, according to county commissioners who have seen the maps. The enterprise zone now encompasses 3.1 square miles bordered by Fowler and Bearss avenues, Interstate 275 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. Up to three noncontiguous areas can be added to an existing enterprise zone as long the total area isn’t more than 20 square miles.

The state government designates enterprise zones based on the median family income in an area. The zones are intended create jobs in blighted, economically disadvantaged areas. The University Area Enterprise Zone was created in February 2003.

County Commissioner Victor Crist, who, as a state legislator sponsored the bill to create the enterprise zone in the University Area, said he opposes enlarging the boundaries, especially pushing them down into south county. A larger area would dilute the amount of money the zone gets from the state, he said.

“Those dollars haven’t changed in years at the state level,” Crist said. He compared enlarging the boundaries to take in south county to “dropping a drop of chlorine in a 60,000 gallon pool.”

Crist blamed the proposed boundary changes on unnamed single-member district commissioners who want resources from the University Area Enterprise Zone to benefit their constituents. The commissioners who represent Palm River and south county are Les Miller and Sandy Murman.

“There are two options: go back to the state and get new legislation to create a new enterprise zone — that’s hard to do — or expand current enterprise zones in areas where you want to do it,” Crist said. “This should have been done as a separate enterprise zone altogether.”

Murman, who favors the new borders, said she explored the possibility of creating a new enterprise zone in Gibsonton and Ruskin, but the median family income there wasn’t low enough.

“I think we need to be very careful of concentrating all our resources in one area,” Murman said. “I think it’s important to look at the big picture, the whole county, and make sure all impoverished areas have the opportunity to have development and services.”

The county is planning community meetings on the proposal in the University Area, Palm River, Gibsonton and the 56th Street area, according to an e-mail sent Tuesday by Lynn Schultz, a member of the county Economic Development Department.

Schultz said a legal advertisement outlining the proposed boundary amendment was to be published in today’s edition of The Tampa Tribune. The matter will go to the county commission Dec. 18, Schultz said.

msalinero@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-8303

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