Boasting a downtown filled with old Florida homes, microbreweries and ethnic eateries near Lake Monroe, Sanford has a lot to lure in tourists, city officials say.
But what’s missing are hotels.
As a way of luring companies or investors to build places for visitors to spend the night, city commissioners have established a rebate program that would grant property tax breaks — by as much as 100% over 10 years in some cases — to new or expanding businesses related to tourism or economic development.
That includes hotels.
“In order to bring people here for several days, you have to have some place for them to stay,” said Sonia Fonseca, Sanford’s economic development project manager. “Part of the idea behind this is to make Sanford more of a destination city, rather than just a place to visit for the day.”
Besides tourism, the so-called “supplemental economic and tourism development tax rebate” program also could be granted to businesses that want to build or expand high-end office space or affordable housing but couldn’t qualify for other business incentive programs, such as the state’s qualified target industry tax-refund program, Fonseca said.
City commissioners would ultimately determine which companies can receive the tax break, for how much and for how long. Commissioners would consider Sanford’s need for such a business — such as a hotel in the downtown district — and whether the company would lure in additional businesses.
For example, Sanford officials have long wanted a hotel within the downtown district, or a mixed-use development made up shops, offices and residences near the city’s SunRail station on West State Road 46.
“There are already incentives out there for the big fish companies, but not so much for the smaller companies that can bring in jobs,” Fonseca said.
Businesses receiving the tax break would first pay the city’s property taxes of the assessed value for its expansion or new development and then be reimbursed by Sanford. A company would have to make at least a $3 million capital investment to qualify for the tax break.
Sanford officials acknowledged the tax-rebate program would initially take money off the city’s tax rolls. But it eventually could increase Sanford’s tax revenue because the new businesses would attract further economic growth, such as a hotel or mixed-use building luring in restaurants and coffee shops.
In March 2016, Sanford voters approved a similar property-tax break to new or expanding companies that create good-paying jobs. However, that tax relief — as much as 50% up to 10 years — applied in certain sectors to the value of new equipment, the construction of buildings or expansion of facilities.
This new tax break is more focused on tourism, city officials said.
“This will provide us with an additional tool to push some projects to happen,” City Commissioner Art Woodruff said.
However, Woodruff added he’d like to see the tax break go to companies looking to expand or set up shop in areas that lack economic development — such as within the historic Goldsboro neighborhood or along U.S. Highway 17-92 — rather than spots that already have high-end businesses, such as Lake Mary Boulevard.
“What I don’t want to do is incentivize development in areas where it’s going to happen anyway,” Woodruff said.
In recent years, Sanford has had companies interested in building high-end hotels within the downtown district, but those projects have stalled.
In 2017, a group of investors purchased the historic Mayfair Hotel building on East First Street that was most recently occupied by the former New Tribes Mission as offices and residencies. Plans to turn the 3-story 1926 building into a luxury hotel have since stalled.
Sanford officials also have long wanted to see the historic six-story bank building at the southeast corner of Park Avenue and East First Street turned into a hotel. Such a hotel would lure in more shops and restaurants into the some of the empty store fronts downtown, officials believe.
“This allows us to assist companies that will eventually bring an economic impact to our city,” Fonseca said.