The Lakeland City Commission will be asked Monday to amend the city’s impact fee structure to allow 100% discounts for high-wage “target” businesses that move into a proposed 4,484-acre “innovation district” in the northeast reaches of the city near Florida Polytechnic University. 

FOLLOWUP: The proposal was approved 6-0. Commissioner Sara Roberts McCarley was absent from the meeting.

Innovation districts incentivize high-wage job generation in ”cutting-edge locations primed for mixed-use for living, working and networking,” states a March 2020 study commissioned by the Central Florida Development Council, and are a relatively new addition to urban planners’ tool boxes. The city of Tampa created a 19-square-mile innovation district surrounding the University of South Florida in 2019. 

Innovation districts “reshape the economy, taking and repurposing locations to collaborate instead of building individual empires,” according to the study. “This form of development is intertwined with redevelopment and economics in a way that can repurpose slow-developing land. Helping combine employment with denser housing, mass transit and creativity, the idea of the ‘innovation district’ is one trend that will not be diminishing any time soon.”

The development council authorized the study to determine how to best create, and harmonize, innovation districts in Polk County, Lakeland and Auburndale.

Planners have been researching locations and stipulations for innovation districts for at least three years. 

Lakeland’s proposed innovation district would be broken into four semi-contiguous components:

  • A 578.4-acre Health & Technology District framed by I-4 to the north, State Road 33 to the west and spanning both sides of University Boulevard.
  • A 1,295-acre Information Sciences & Engineering District also straddling University Boulevard and framed by I-4 to the north with Polk Parkway to the east.
  • A 1,100-acre Advanced Manufacturing District between Polk Parkway to the west and the city limit to the east.
  • A 1,511-acre Mobility & innovation District south of Pace Road and framed by Polk Parkway to the west and Berkley Road to the east, near Florida Poly and the adjacent SunTrax automated vehicle testing center.

Up until 2019, nearly 2,500 acres within the proposed innovation district was included within the Williams Development of Regional Impact, which spanned a mined area and was dissolved in May 2019.

As much as 250,000 square feet of industrial development is possible within the district with “advanced manufacturing as the largest allowable use regardless of land use designation,” according to the study, which notes “there are also a number of environmental constraints … consisting of wetlands, conservation/preservation areas and bordering the Green Swamp.”

Commissioners on Monday will be presented with proposed revisions in the city’s Economic Development Impact Fee Mitigation program that will be applicable to eligible businesses within the proposed four-section 4,484-acre “Innovation District Target Area.” 

The city program reduces impact fees “to encourage high wage and quality industrial job growth,” according to planners, and is “designed to encourage ‘Build to Suit’ and ‘Speculative Building’ development.”

The program has three tiers. Level 1 is a 50% impact fee discount for businesses that generate 10 to 50 jobs at 115% of the county’s median wage; Level 2 is a 70% discount for businesses that create 51 to 100  above-median wage jobs; Level 3 is a 90% discount for businesses that create 101 or more jobs at 115% median wage.

To be eligible for the program, a “Qualified Target Industry Business (QTI)” must be a ‘Build to Suit Project’ and create 10 or more new jobs with an average wage of 115% or greater of Polk County’s median wage, and retain the business and jobs target salary levels for at least two years. A “Build to Suit Project” that will create or retain 100 or more jobs that is not a QTI business can also qualify.

Within the innovation district, businesses that create at least 10 permanent jobs at or above 150% of the average Polk County wage will receive a 100% discount on impact fees, under the proposal.

Among proposed changes is the owner of the real property upon which a “Build to Suit Project” is located and leased to a QTI Business can qualify for the EDIFM program although “not both” are eligible.

Another proposed amendment would apply the 50% impact fee reduction only to wholesale trade or warehouse uses below 400,000-square-feet. Wholesale trade and warehouse uses are not be eligible for iImpact fee reductions within the proposed innovation district.

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