City of Clewiston on hook to pay $360k grant for Commerce Park

With zero jobs created and a business still working towards opening its doors at Clewiston’s Commerce Park on Olympia Street, the city is charged with the task of paying back more than $360,000 grant it was awarded to build infrastructure at the park.

The Economic Development Block Grant awarded by the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) was presented to the city several years ago to be used to build sewer systems, roads and other infrastructure at the Commerce Park.

All Juice & Beverage, LLC worked out an agreement with the city to build its juice plant at the park back in 2012. As part of the agreement, the city would invest $400,000 in All Juice to build its plant and $180,000 — or half of the grant awarded by DEO — would be forgiven from the $400,000 investment should the company create 11 new, full-time positions.

According to officials, the stipulation with All Juice coincided with terms of the DEO grant, which said 11 new, full-time positions must be created in order for the city to use the $360,000 without having to pay it back.

After some road blocks and a few hiccups through the years, All Juice still hasn’t opened its doors and still hasn’t created one of the new, full-time positions.

Now, the city is on the hook for the $360,000 grant.

“The grant is closed and we are not in compliance,” said Finance Director Ted Byrd.

It is likely the city will have to make a payment on the grant this fiscal year, said Byrd, and the city cannot apply for additional funding from the state until it is in compliance with this DEO grant.

City Manager Al Perry said the grant will be paid back with zero interest over at least five years, but the city may be able to stretch out those terms to seven years.

There is also a chance the city could get some of that money back if jobs are created within a year after the city starts paying on the grant.

Roughly $33,000 could be credited to the city for each new, full-time position created within that year, said Byrd.
As for All Juice, plant director Javier Gonzalez said things are moving along with the water side of the juice plant, and production could be expected to begin in December.

“We finally got the permit for the water, just not the juice yet. … It’s harder to get permits for juice,” said Gonzalez.

Though the plant hasn’t hired any new positions yet, they have transferred employees from their yogurt operation on Obispo to the juice plant on Olympia.

Gonzalez also said the plant manager is starting the process of hiring.

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