Deal a sweet Christmas gift to 55 West

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Christmas arrived early at the 55 West condo tower downtown.

It's the season of giving, and our charitable politicians just can't help themselves.

Orlando city commissioners already promised more than $12 million worth of incentives to 55 West six years ago when its condominiums, office space and retail shops were touted as the answer to the long-struggling Church Street.

Today the tower is built, but there isn't any office space, much of the retail space is empty and the condominiums have been converted to apartments.

The project, like others incentivized by the city, struggled.

Its lender foreclosed on the property. The bank finished the construction, hired a company to market and rent out the units and now wants to sell the building.

But first it needed the city to revise its incentive package, and commissioners happily obliged on Monday when they voted to approve the deal. Only Commissioner Phil Diamond dissented.

The free arts space that the city was to receive as part of the original agreement? That's no longer free.

The city will pay about $84,000 a year in "common area maintenance fees," which might as well be called rent. A good chunk of that should be reimbursed to the city through rent the building owner will pay to the city on a portion of its parking garage, but that is still a far cry from free.

On top of that, the city will pay close to a half million more than it expected for 100 spaces in that garage. The cost will be $19,500 rather than $15,000 per space because construction costs went up between the time the original agreement was signed and the project was actually built and the city agreed to purchase the spots "at cost."

Orlando should know by now that incentives have a bad track record when it comes to trying to spur a market that just doesn't exist. If that model worked, then our downtown would be bustling with successful condominium towers that serve to lift the property values of the other homes, businesses and land around them.

Instead, we've got a skyline peppered with towers where values have plummeted.

Scott to visit Burnham

On Friday, Gov.-elect Rick Scott will bring his jobs tour to Orlando with a stop at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.

Invitations have already gone out to local business leaders for the event, which is being billed as a "conversation with Gov.-elect Rick Scott." The topic? Job creation in the heath-care and biomedical industries.

Will the public get to listen in on that conversation? That remains to be seen. A spokeswoman for the institute referred questions to Scott's transition team.

Scott has closed some of his tour stops already this week to the media.

Spokeswoman Amy Graham said Scott would hold an "availability" to answer reporters' questions but didn't respond to an inquiry about whether Scott would allow the media inside the event.

FPL pays to warm manatees

Utility customers gripe about getting hit with fees for yet-to-be-built nuclear plants and requests for big rate increases to help fund, in part, big salaries. But how about saving manatees? Florida Power & Light is using $4.7 million of its customers' money to heat waters near Cape Canaveral, where manatees go to stay warm in the winter. The temporary heaters will be in place until the company rebuilds its plant there. That is an expenditure we can feel good about.

Beth Kassab can be reached at bkassab@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5448. Read her blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/thebottomline.
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