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TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has determined that three professional sports stadiums qualify for state sales-tax money.
Now the focus of the game shifts to the state House where lobbyists seeking money for backers of the three stadiums — EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Sun Life Stadium in Miami-Dade County and Daytona International Speedway — must convince reluctant House leaders to agree to set aside tens of millions of dollars over the next 30 years to pay for improvements.
House Economic Development & Tourism Chairman Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, said Monday he remains skeptical of government funding for stadium deals largely due to the money that went into baseball’s Marlins Park, which opened in 2012.
“I personally have an issue where taxpayer money is being used to fund billionaires,” Artiles said. “If (Marlins owner Jeffery) Loria actually tries to sell the Miami Marlins, he has a major windfall on the back of taxpayers.”
House Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican who is next in line to become House Speaker, said Jan. 11 he hadn’t changed his opposition from last year to giving sales-tax dollars to professional sports facilities.
A fourth application was initially submitted by the Buccaneers Football Stadium Limited Partnership for Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, but no review was conducted as the paperwork wasn’t completed on time.
The Department of Economic Opportunity late Monday released a report about the stadium projects, with the review based on models set up by state economists. The report did not rank the projects, something lawmakers complained was missing from a similar review a year ago.
In a letter to House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner, Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Cissy Proctor said lawmakers could consider additional safeguards for the funding by setting pay-for-performance measures and imposing potential sanctions.
“In recent years, DEO has taken the position that economic development projects must be backed up by a performance-based contract, similar to the required contracts for transactions with Enterprise Florida, Inc.,” Proctor wrote.
Proctor noted that, based on the review methodology, Sun Life Stadium has the potential to return $2.22 for every $1, with Daytona at $1.25 for each $1. Jacksonville is projected at 91 cents per $1.
She acknowledged in the letter that each applicant contends the state “understates” their return on investment.
The funding process allows stadium backers to apply for as much as $3 million a year for projects totaling more than $200 million. They can seek up to $2 million a year if construction or improvements are between $100 million and $200 million, and $1 million a year when the work is less than $100 million.
The Daytona speedway and South Florida stadium are asking for $90 million — $3 million a year for 30 years.
The city of Jacksonville and the Jacksonville Jaguars are seeking $1 million a year.
The report came out the same day Rep. Bryan Avila, R-Hialeah, withdrew a bill (HB 1427) in the House Economic Development & Tourism Subcommittee that would have required the sale of public land to sports franchises to be at least fair market value.
The bill, which was withdrawn before a vote and is likely dead for the legislative session, was in part a reaction to Marlins Park.
Miami-Dade County borrowed $400 million through bonds sold on Wall Street that, according to projections, may come to more than $2.4 billion when the final payment is due in 2048.
Avila said the state shouldn’t have to give away money to attract pro sports franchises, noting that Orlando City Soccer Club and the Miami Beckham United in Miami are spending their own money on soccer stadiums.
“Florida is the third largest state in the union, population is increasing by the day, you have arguably the best economic environment in the nation,” Avila said. “You don’t need taxpayer funds to set up shop in a community.”
However, several lawmakers expressed concerns that the measure could tie the hands of their local governments that have stadiums viewed as economic drivers — ranging from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa to spring training facilities in Sarasota and West Palm Beach to rodeo grounds in Osceola County.
“The return on investment would be other people in the community, they have the opportunity to get jobs at the stadium and around the stadium,” said Rep. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach.
The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.