Tax breaks for blighted areas ending up in resorts - FOX 35 News Orlando

Tax breaks for blighted areas ending up in resorts

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

Former Tampa state Senator James Hargrett wrote and sponsored a law to give tax credits to blighted, high-crime areas. But he says the intent of his law is being abused.

The law allows businesses to qualify for tax credits, ranging from $500 to $2,000, for each new job created in a designated high-crime area that, according to the law:

  • Chronically exhibits extreme and unacceptable levels of poverty, unemployment, physical deterioration, and economic disinvestment
  • Is a blight on the community as a whole
  • Tarnishes the image and reputation of the community in the eyes of its residents
  • Reduces the desirability of the community as a place to visit and live

However, state records show tax credits intended to help revitalize high-crime areas have been flowing into Orlando's theme park and resort district, which includes the Universal theme parks and several high-end shops and resort hotels. Meanwhile, blighted parts of Tampa do not even qualify for the credits due to the manner in which high-crime areas are drawn by local governments and approved by the state.

"It's depressing," said Hargrett. "We intended for these funds to go to help revitalize depressed communities -- not go to some theme park."

Hargrett was referring to Universal Orlando Resort. State records dating back to 1999 show more than $6-million in credits have been approved for the Orlando theme parks and surrounding properties.

Universal responded with a statement that addressed the benefits of receiving these credits.

"Incentives are an important part of the decisions we and many other companies make about when and how we invest in our community. Incentives helped bring universal to Orlando and have been important to our growth ever since. Job-based incentives have helped us create 1,500 jobs in recent years - bringing our total number of team members to nearly 17,000 people - with more jobs on the way. Our entire community benefits from that kind of growth," said Universal Orlando Resort spokesman Tom Schroder.

Universal and all other businesses in Orlando that have applied for these credits are not doing anything wrong. They are merely receiving an incentive for being in what their government has defined as a high-crime area.

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