FREEPORT — The city is ramping up its economic development efforts with the initiation of a tax increment reinvestment zone.
The zone will be in downtown and along the riverfront, Freeport City Manager Tim Kelty said.
Starting in 2020, any new development that creates additional assessed value will have 50 percent of its city property taxes reinvested into the zone, he said.
This will last for two decades and eventually become self-sustaining as it encourages more private investment, Kelty said.
“We all know the glory years of the downtown and that today it is challenging down there,” he said. “The city has for a long time known what it wants to be, but has not had the tools or technical capability to achieve that vision.”
The reinvestment zone is a way to designate funds for that area of town without taking away from any existing revenue streams, since it will affect only new development, Kelty said.
Once the revenue stream is large enough in three to four years, the city can issue debt against that revenue to make even more significant improvements to those areas, he said.
There is an opportunity to partner with other taxing entities like the county, Port Freeport, Brazosport College and drainage district for a portion of the tax revenues they collect, Kelty said. There is an incentive for all of the districts because they will gain more revenue if more investment comes to the area, he said.
“They end up winners as well,” Kelty said.
Other economic development efforts include providing public WiFi downtown and lighting up the city’s bridges, Freeport EDC Executive Director Courtland Holman said.
“One of the things we’re trying to see if we can create, one way or the other, is to do a citywide, downtown WiFi in parks and other areas that people can connect to, so we can become a tech city in some respects,” Holman said.
A fiber optic line down Fourth Street comes up to City Hall and could easily be tapped into, he said. The corporation is researching the costs, abilities and partnerships to provide WiFi in the downtown area, he said.
This would allow businesses to offer free internet and invite people to go out and explore, Holman said.
There is a subcommittee working on lighting and aesthetics through the city, and they hope to put some lighting on the guillotine, railroad and highway bridges, Holman said.
“We’ve got a bunch of bridges here,” he said.
It would be great to light them up so people come into the harbor and see a nice visual, Holman said.
They’re also discussing what “way finding” signs could be put on the highway to direct people downtown, showing convenient places they could visit while passing through, he said.
“It’s going to take time, but if we get it done, I think it’d be very successful,” Holman said.