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Senate Looks At Ranking Stadium Proposals

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Major League Soccer, spring training baseball and the Miami Dolphins are all in play in a Senate measure that would rank stadium funding projects.

The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee on Monday unanimously approved a measure (SB 1216) that would require the state Department of Economic Opportunity to set up an evaluation process for local governments seeking sales-tax rebates to attract or retain professional sports teams through stadium improvements and construction.

The proposal comes a year after the House blocked requests to use state sales-tax dollars to pay for sports stadium upgrades and construction in Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville and Daytona Beach.

Sen. Jack Latvala, the bill’s sponsor, predicted that the stadium issue would once again require all the time left in the 60-day session that ends May 2. A stadium funding proposal died on the last day of the legislative session last year despite aggressive last-minute lobbying by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.

“We’ve got several stops. This will be one of the last bills that passes,” Latvala, R-Clearwater, said. “We have a long way to go.”

The Senate proposal is based on a review process favored by House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who said he does not want to set aside money for any professional sports stadium projects this year.

The Dolphins would likely apply for funds if Latvala’s proposal passes, Sun Life Stadium lobbyist Ron Book said.

“If you get a process in place, people can come back and go through that process, which is what it’s intended to do,” Book said. “I think there is just as much likelihood we will be an applicant as anybody else. We’re the only professional sports franchise in Florida that doesn’t get a rebate, and now you have the two major league soccer potential teams that can apply.”

The state currently directs up to $2 million a year in sales tax dollars to each of eight major league sports facilities. They include EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, BB&T Center in Broward County, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, American Airlines Arena in Miami, and the Amway Center in Orlando. Also, Sun Life Stadium receives money for improvements done by the Miami Marlins baseball team, a former tenant.

The Dolphins play in Sun Life and own the stadium. On Monday the committee approved an amendment by Latvala that makes privately owned facilities eligible for the state funding, which could apply to the Dolphins..

“There are eight professional major league franchises in Florida, seven of them are in stadiums owned by county government, and the eighth was where we had an owner who didn’t ask for county help and did it on his own,” Latvala said.

Sun Life Stadium, opened in 1987 as Joe Robbie Stadium, named after the founder of the Miami Dolphins who paid for the construction with private funds.

Under Latvala’s proposal, stadiums would be eligible for $1 million to $3 million a year, depending on the size of the project.

The plan would also alter a measure approved last year intended to help Florida keep and attract major league baseball teams now training in Arizona.

The proposal would remove what some consider a restrictive provision that requires a team to repay all the money that has been spent by a local government if the club moves to another training facility. The measure now would require a team to repay only for the time remaining on the lease.

“If you signed a 20 year lease and stay 18 years, you had to repay all 20 years,” Latvala said.

A separate Senate measure (SB 208), now primed for a floor vote, would earmark $2 million annually in state sales tax revenue for Daytona International Speedway.

Under the plan, the state would contribute $60 million over 30 years to International Speedway Corp., which is putting up $375 million for a project known as “Daytona Rising” that will rehab the track’s entrances and entertainment concourses.

A companion (HB 127) to the Daytona proposal has been idling in the House since it was filed in October, another sign of Weatherford’s views on state-backed stadium aid.

This report is by Jim Turner with The News Service of Florida.

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