According to the Orlando Sentinel, the resort claimed more than $2.3 million in Florida tax credits since 2010, the same year the resort opened it's much lauded Wizarding World of Harry Potter. When the new Harry Potter attraction opened, it was credited under the state's tax code for creating jobs in an "urban high-crime area."
According to the Sentinel, the resort was getting tax credits through a 16-year old incentive program that is intended to encourage business to move into high crime neighborhoods in Florida. The incentive program gives out up to $1,500 in tax breaks for every "full-time" job a company creates in an area that has been identified as a high-crime area.
Universal Orlando is located adjacent to Dr. Phillips, an upscale neighborhood located on the west side of the resort and the Major Boulevard resort area on the east side of the resort. According to the Sentinel, the resort has received tax breaks for 1,561 jobs since August 2010. These jobs have included cooks, security guards and boat drivers. The Sentinel dug even further into Universals tax records and found out that the resort have claimed more than $3.8 million in high crime tax breaks since 2000. And to add insult to injury, Lowes Hotels & Resorts and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which operates the Hard Rock Cafe and Hard Rock Live, has received an additional $2 million from the high crime tax incentive.
Universal issued a written statement on the matter to the Orlando Sentinel. The resort wrote:
We are thrilled to have created more than 1,500 jobs within our community over the past couple years. These jobs cover a wide range of professional and hourly positions and are an important part of the economic contribution our growth has brought to this community. As with any company, incentives are an important motivating factor as we plan future growth and investment for Universal across the globe.
The "Urban High-Crime Area Job Tax Credit Program" was created in 1997 to allow cities and urban counties throughout Florida to nominate an area that "chronically exhibits extreme and unacceptable levels of poverty, unemployment, physical deterioration and economic disinvestment." Orlando was one of the first cities in the state to take advantage of the new tax incentive. But the city did not limit its tax scope to just its high crime areas. It also included more posh commercial zones such as Millenia and Universal. The end result is that business such as Bloomingdale's in the ultra-upscale Mall of Millenia and Universal Orlando have declared themselves in a "high-crime" zone and claimed tax breaks for hiring workers.
But nobody in the state has used the tax credit more than Universal, which has swallowed up 37 percent of the high crime tax incentive since 2000.