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Money from STAR Center sale may fund St. Pete small business incubator

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Pinellas County, with money from the upcoming sale of the Young-Rainey STAR Center, may be on its way to funding a new, local small business incubator.

During a Tuesday work session, the Board of County Commissioners discussed adding an appropriations request to one of its 2016 fiscal year regular meeting agendas. The request would be for state, federal and county funding for a St. Pete-based small business incubator.

According to Tonya Elmore, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, the request would be for $8 million from the state, another $2 million from the federal government, and then another $2 million to $4 million — which would be taken from STAR Center sale money — from the county.

“We hope to get as much as we can from the state and federal government to offset any investment from the Industrial Development Authority,” said Elmore, who went on to add that the City of St. Petersburg will be donating roughly two acres of land for the project.

Proposals from prospective STAR Center buyers are expected to come in toward the end of this month, according to Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard, who also expects the county to collect somewhere between $15 million and $20 million from the sale.

Some county commissioners were a little weary of assigning unrealized money to a specific future project.

“We haven’t sold this [STAR Center] building yet, we haven’t committed this funding yet, but now we’re using it as [potential] match money?” asked Commissioner Charlie Justice.

Commissioner Karen Seel, on the other hand, thought it was an item more suited for St. Petersburg City Council.

“Since it’s intended to be in the City of St. Petersburg, I would respectfully ask if the city would put it on their legislative agenda,” said Seel, who went on to cite the substantial economic benefit the incubator would have for the St. Pete area.

Woodard acknowledged that the discussion was a little out of sync with the BCC’s usual modus operandi.

“This is a decision that would be a future decision for the commission,” said Woodard. “But, because of the timing of the [legislative] session, we have to […] bring these types of items forward, which is a little bit out of sync.”

The 2016 fiscal year begins Oct. 1. The Florida Legislature convenes for a special session between Oct. 19 and Nov. 6.

Currently, the St. Petersburg small business incubator appropriations request is being worked on by both county staff and U.S. Rep. David Jolly. A feasibility study and a formal business plan have already been completed.

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Devon Crumpacker is a Tampa Bay based writer and reporter for Extensive Enterprises Media. He primarily covers Pinellas County politics for SaintPetersblog.com, but also makes time to write the occasional bar review for FloridaBarTab.com. He lives in St. Petersburg with his fiance, Sydney. To contact, e-mail devon@floridapolitics.com, or visit his Twitter page @DevonCrumpacker.

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