Late last year, State Representative Matt Gaetz came to the rescue after Pensacola developers Quint and Rishy Studer said they wouldn’t move forward with a planned $50 million mixed use development in downtown Pensacola without a tax break that was set to expire.
At the Studers’ request, Gaetz inserted language into a bill clarifying that projects like the Studer development, which previously qualified for the incentive under Florida’s now-defunct enterprise zone rules, can continue to receive it going forward. The tax break — what’s called an EDATE, or economic ad valorem tax exemption — will reduce the Studer’s tax obligations for the project by an estimated $5 million or more over a ten-year period.
In April, Governor Rick Scott signed the bill into law, and the Studers announced the project — a mixed-use residential and commercial development located on the former site of the Pensacola News Journal headquarters — was back on. Studer has said the 258-unit development will generate an estimated $65 million in new investment, 600 construction jobs, and as many as 150 permanent jobs.
Now, with Gaetz running for Congress to replace the retiring Jeff Miller, the Studers have contributed nearly $40,000 to Gaetz’s campaign accounts and a pro-Gaetz political action committee since the beginning of the year.
The couple’s largest contribution has been $25,000 to North Florida Neighbors, the federal “super PAC” supporting Gaetz’s congressional campaign. The couple each also gave the federal maximum of $5,400 to Gaetz’s campaign committee. The $25,000 super PAC contribution came about a month after Governor Scott signed the tax bill into law. The Studers had not previously donated to any of Gaetz’s campaigns.
Studer did not respond to a request for comment Monday, but told POLITICO Florida that the contributions did not represent a quid pro quo. “Matt and I have spoken several times at Blue Wahoos games, but this was the first time I was able to watch him work as a legislator,” Studer told POLITICO. “I was immediately impressed with how he worked to fix this statewide EDATE issue. Following the legislative session, when he announced his plans to run for Congress, I looked for a way to support his campaign.”
Despite Studer’s comments, campaign finance records show that the Studers, along with their Studer Properties LLC, contributed $3,000 to Gaetz’s state senate campaign on January 11 — about a month before Gaetz filed the bill and two months before the legislative session ended in March. Gaetz switched to the congressional race shortly thereafter when Jeff Miller announced he would not seek reelection.
In a statement released after Governor Scott signed the bill in April, the Studers thanked the area’s entire legislative delegation but singled out Gaetz for special praise. “We are very grateful to local legislative Representatives Clay Ingram and Mike Hill, as well as State Senator Greg Evers,” Studer said. “We especially are grateful to Representative Matt Gaetz whose leadership in writing the language and support was crucial.”
The Studer project is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.