Berlin Activities Depot Developer Seeks Tax Breaks

BERLIN — An Olympic-caliber gymnastics studio complex took a step closer to opening in Berlin this week when the Mayor and Council indicated they are willing to consider a property tax phase in program to help make the project a reality.

With a proposed location off of Old Ocean City Blvd. at an area that was once parking for the Tyson Foods processing plant, the 24,000-square-foot Berlin Activities Depot would include professional gymnastics training facilities, day care and activities, such as miniature golf and laser tag.

It was first announced and approved in 2012 but ran into delays due to financing. It’s taken a long time but Twisters Gymnastics and Carmella’s Kids Learning Center owner Carmella Solito told the council this week that she is ready to jump the final hurdle and begin construction. She just needs a boost up from the town.

“Basically, I have been trying to move into Berlin for about five years. I’ve been financed,” she said. “I have an approval for a certain amount of money. I’m trying to make that amount of money work and build an Olympic facility.”

Solito approached the council asking for a phase in of both impact fees and property taxes for her first five years in town. The council had previously approved EDU financing for the project, and Mayor Gee Williams saw Solito’s new requests as a kind of extension of that.

“We supported the request of financing EDUs, which is a concept that we came up with about three years ago for the very fact that there’s a lot of financing that has to start a new business or re-start or re-model,” said Williams.

A phase-in plan with impact fees was something that the mayor had no issue with. The impact fees for Solito’s project would total about $22,000 and phasing them in over five years, less at the beginning and then making up the rest later, shouldn’t break the town’s bank. But the mayor did have reservations over phasing in property taxes over the same time frame.

“Property taxes are the very lifeblood of a municipality,” he told Solito. “The biggest single source of income that we have is property taxes.”

Councilwoman Paula Lynch pointed out that the town is not receiving much in the way of property taxes from the proposed depot site currently so even if Solito only paid partial taxes for the first few years, and then made it up later, the town would be seeing more revenue.

Williams agreed and asked if the council would then support a property tax phase-in. There was some concern from Councilwoman Lisa Hall that the town has been prioritizing incentives for bringing in new business without doing enough for the businesses that have been in Berlin for years.

“They feel like we’re trying to encourage and help other businesses that really haven’t been here and put the time in,” she said.

The mayor pointed out that Berlin has a successful Economic and Community Development Department, which he believes does a lot of good for existing businesses.

The consensus of the council was that the proposed Activities Depot would be a solid addition to the town and that some kind of further assistance could be extended. The council signaled, though, that phasing in both property taxes and impact fees was unlikely.

“The wants are infinite, the needs are many and the financial resources are very finite,” said Williams.

Solito is set to return within the next month and will meet with staff during that time to develop hard numbers to bring back to the council. Once a plan is approved, construction will be the next step and should take about seven months to complete.