Supervisors to consider tax exemptions for downtown development

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport's Main Street Program wants county supervisors to consider tax exemptions as a way to attract downtown development. The proposal would freeze property taxes for up to seven years for qualified developers who construct new buildings or renovate existing ones in the downtown district.

Representatives from Main Street discussed the idea with Harrison County supervisors on Monday.

Offering potential developers exemptions on ad valorem taxes is a means of making an investor's bottom line more attractive.

"It would freeze those ad valorem taxes for a period up to seven years. Each project would be approved on a case by case basis," said Eddie Appel, president of the Main Street Program.

The Gulfport City Council passed a similar tax abatement program a year ago.

"Now we're getting some serious developers who have expressed interest and we're wanting to do everything we can to make locating in Gulfport as easy as possible," said intern architect Johnny Olsen, who works with Main Street.

Gulfport's recent facade program was a great success in helping spruce up the appearance of downtown.  It will be followed by a grant-funded streetscape program that will provide new streets, sidewalks and landscaping.

"An overall beautification project of downtown. Paving streets. Millions of dollars in landscaping. Brand new sidewalks. Park benches. Street lighting. You name it," said Olsen.

Those programs will make the downtown attractive to developers, while tax exemptions might convince them to invest there.

One thing that continues to inhibit new development in downtown Gulfport and elsewhere along the coast is the high cost of insurance. Supporters of the tax exemption program say it's one way to help offset that cost.

"I think that the tax exemption is a very good idea. I'm usually not gung ho for tax exemptions. But because insurance cost is so high, and we need something to spur economic development in the downtown area," said supervisor Connie Rockco.

If supervisors agree, Main Street will help market the incentive.

"We want to start providing a package to people, developers who come town. So they know there's a tax abatement or any other incentives that may be out there. We have to market it. I mean, you can't just put it on the books and hope somebody finds out about it," said Appel.

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