Talks are underway in Zephyrhills to offer a greater variety of business grants within the city’s CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency) district.
At last month’s CRA board meeting, Zephyrhills CRA director Gail Hamilton pushed for a wider range of incentives to help encourage new business investment in the 500-plus acre district.
The district encompasses the center spine of the city, generally between Hercules Park to C Avenue, and from Zephyr Park to 17th Street. Within those boundaries are the following historic neighborhood districts: Hercules, Historic Jeffries, Historic Abbott, Moore’s Estate, Zephyr Lake, Oakside, and Plaza.
Hamilton referenced a 2019 market report from consultant GAI Community Solutions, which indicates that vacancy rates are down in the CRA district, but property values are dropping because older retail/office buildings are not being improved or rehabilitated.
Interestingly, however, Hamilton said rental rates in the district have increased because “there’s a short supply of those buildings that are habitable, that are in the right location, where somebody wants to be.”
The market report shows the majority of rentable office properties within the district were built prior to 1980, and the majority of retail properties built prior to 1990. Further, since 2011, no new office properties and just one new retail property have been built within the district.
The report showed the limited inventory will weigh on district activity in the face of a growing local economy, Hamilton told CRA board members.
“We need to address that we haven’t built any new buildings and what we have is old,” the CRA director said.
“We still have building stock that nobody wants to rent because of the issues with the building or where it’s located or how it’s chopped up, and so we might want to take a very focused look at some of those buildings and try to work with the property owners,” she suggested.
The city currently offers grants related to building exteriors, including a matching façade rehabilitation grant program of up to $2,500.
But, Hamilton thinks the program should be expanded to allows some grants related to interior projects, such as plumbing or electric improvements.
“I can do signage, I can help them with a window or door, but the grants don’t allow for anything in the interior of the building, so that’s something we may want to talk about,” she said.
Hamilton also suggested creating some type of kitchen remodeling grant, particularly for high-quality kitchen fire suppression systems that could be used for subsequent tenants, if needed.
She put it like this: “If that restaurant goes out (of business), you still have a restaurant and that investment the CRA makes putting the money in the building, because the building will always be there.”
The CRA director added she’s seen high demand from retailers and restaurateurs looking to lease newer or updated building spaces, even as small as 1,000 square feet, in the downtown area.
“Not a day goes by that somebody doesn’t call the CRA office asking about space — and, I don’t have it,” she said.
The Zephyrhills CRA includes about 300 business, with the largest concentration of employment within retail trade, health care services, and accommodation and food services.
The district’s largest employer is AdventHealth Zephyrhills (1,100 employees), followed by Florida Medical Clinic (850), Nestle/Zephyrhills Bottled Water (325), City of Zephyrhills (180) and Morrow Steel (90).
Another issue, Hamilton said, is the limited supply of affordable housing for middle-income workers, close to their jobs.
Hamilton said she’s had ongoing discussions with AdventHealth Zephyrhills CEO Amanda Maggard about the issue, talking about creating some type of joint residential grants “so that that workforce group from the hospital has an opportunity to live and work here in the CRA district.”
The city offers a $5,000 residential ownership incentive grant to homebuyers who purchase a home in the CRA district, and maintain residency for five years. The CRA awarded five such grants last fiscal year, Hamilton said.
Published November 13, 2019