Local News

City looking for new or expanding businesses

SEBRING - If you want to expand your business or open a new one and provide new jobs, the city of Sebring may be able to help.

Jim Polatty, planning director, said Wednesday the city is looking for such businesses that may be eligible to receive up to $1.5 million in Community Block Development Grant funds.

The money can be used for public sector improvements related to the business, Those may include sewer and water lines, fire hydrants, sidewalks and road improvements, such as a de-acceleration lane.

In the past, the program helped with Albertson's Grocery Store, which is now Publix, and the Residence Inn. More recently, a $750,000 grant was approved for a new and larger Newsom Eye and Laser Center.

Construction is expected to begin on the new center, a three-story building, located at 4211 U.S. 27, north of Fairmont Drive and on the west side of U.S. 27.

At the time the grant was approved, the maximum amount was $750,000. Since then it has increased to $1.5 million.

Polatty said the amount of the grant depends on the actual costs and the number of jobs being created. The business must also put up matching monies for public sector improvements. The program focuses on creating low and moderate income jobs, he said.

Newsom submitted a proposal in which it pledged to employ 56 people, including nurses, scrub technicians, customer service representatives and a doctor.

The total cost of the building was estimated to be $5.4 million, including $3.8 million to construct the building.

The $750,000 grant included $206,000 for sewer facilities, $46,000 for water facilities, $375,000 for street improvements and, $63,000 for engineering and $60,000 for administration.

Polatty said he expects that costs will be less than expected and that money will be returned, essentially reducing the grant to between $400,000 and $500,000.

Now, the city is hoping that another business will come forward with a proposal,

"We haven't had that knock on the door yet," he said.

Polatty said the grant program includes federal dollars. But the federal government chose for the states to administer the program.

In years past, most of the money from the program went to improve housing, but the federal government has moved away from that emphasis, he said.

Economic development is one focus, Polatty said.

If a business applies, a citizen's advisory task force would review the proposal and submit a recommendation to the Sebring City Council, he said.

Once the council approved the proposal, it would depend on whether any of the federal money remains, he said.

But even if the money isn't available immediately, it is not unusual for a project to fall through and the money for that project be available for others, he said.

Such was the case with plans by Wal-Mart to build a distribution center in Highlands County a few years ago. Wal-Mart eventually decided it had enough distribution centers in the area to meet the need, he said.


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