Speaker Says Visit Florida ‘Cleaning Up Their Act’ Amid Budget Criticism

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Tourism marketing agency Visit Florida is apparently listening to state lawmakers’ criticism over their handling of funds, according to House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

The agency has canceled an auto racing sponsorship and is negotiating for a better deal with an English football club.

“It’s clear that Visit Florida has heard us loud and clear and are beginning the process of cleaning up their act and ceasing the waste of taxpayer money,” Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, said in a statement Thursday.

During this year’s regular legislative session, Corcoran was highly critical of Visit Florida spending and clashed with Gov. Rick Scott about the agency.

Among the more prominent complaints about Visit Florida was a $1 million deal with Miami rapper Pitbull, along with sponsorships of Fulham Football Club in England and the Visit Florida racing team.

Lawmakers during the regular session moved to cut Visit Florida’s budget in 2017-2018 by two-thirds from the current fiscal year. But the funding was bumped up to $76 million — nearly matching the money in the current year — during a special session this month.

The bill (HB 1A) providing the money also will require Visit Florida contracts valued at $500,000 to be posted online. Contracts over $750,000 will have to go before the Joint Legislative Budget Commission and could be voided within 14 days by the House speaker or Senate president. The plan also caps salaries and imposes travel restrictions on Visit Florida employees.

“We are confident with the new oversight provisions that require House and Senate approval and complete transparency, we will be able to protect taxpayers,” Corcoran said in the statement.

On June 2, before the bill was completed, the agency gave a 30-day cancellation notice to the team racing the “Visit Florida car.”

Visit Florida Chief Financial Officer Nelson Mongiovi wrote in the notice of cancellation that “Visit Florida must make major changes in its strategic direction moving forward.”

The $2.875 million contract — about $1 million has yet to be paid — is tied to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season that concludes in October.

While the racing contract ends July 3, Visit Florida is looking to continue its overseas sponsorship of Fulham FC, a soccer club owned by Shahid “Shad” Khan.

Khan is a Naples resident who also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars of the National Football League and has been a political backer of Scott.

Visit Florida spokesman Stephen Lawson said in an email this week that the tourism agency wants “to receive more deliverables at a lower cost.”

Visit Florida has been the main sponsor of Fulham the past two years, with the deal for the recently completed season costing the state agency $1.25 million.

As part of the deal, Visit Florida received signage rights at Fulham’s home stadium Craven Cottage, including the agency’s name appearing on the Riverside Stand roof that sits under the landing approach to London’s Heathrow Airport.

(The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.)

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