Proposed bill could end bed tax subsidies for professional sports stadiums

Author: News Service Florida / WINK News, Sydney Persing
Published: Updated:
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Local communities would no longer be able to use money from tourist-development taxes and half-cent sales taxes on professional sports facilities, under a measure that drew concerns about baseball spring training.

The House Ways & Means Committee in January approved the proposal (HB 1369), which would prohibit using revenue from a tourist-development taxes

(bed tax) or convention-development taxes for building or improving facilities that would be used by professional sports franchises after July 1.

It also would remove the authority of local governments to spend half-cent sales tax dollars on motorsport entertainment complexes or for reimbursing the state under a sports-development program.

Donnie Roberson knows all about empty baseball stadiums. He passes the former spring training home of the Boston Red Sox – City of Palms Park.

“All of a sudden you look up, it’s been empty for 2 or 3 years … They make enough money from the proceeds. Looking for handouts.”

Fort Myers city councilman Kevin Kevin Anderson said the Red Sox’s new spring Training home is a good investment, “Its generating jobs, it’s boosting the local economy, you have people going out to eat.”

Lee County commissioner Brian Hammon said, “it is interesting to think that in six weeks of spring training you have people coming down, they spend $69 million in the market. They create possibly 940 jobs in the market.”

Both admit the optics of the City of Palms Park is not great.

“If these franchises and the stadiums they build are as lucrative as is explained, there will be plenty of private investors willing to participate in their financing,” bill sponsor Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, said.

While voting for the bill, Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, and Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, said more information is needed about the bill’s potential impact on communities that house spring-training facilities, such as Lakeland, which has hosted the Detroit Tigers spring training since the 1930s.

“I’m a huge fan of the Tigers and what they bring to our community,” Burton said. “They (annually) bring $63 million, roughly, of economic development impact to our community. Eighty-four years is a very, very long time. They’re in place right now to extend that to 100 years already.”

The Senate doesn’t have a version of the bill. But the issue is considered linked to a proposal (HB 6057), filed by Ways & Means Chairman Bryan Avila, R-Miami Springs, that is designed to repeal a controversial program that spells out steps for state dollars to become available for stadium construction and renovation.

The stadium funding program makes available $13 million a year for work involving professional stadiums, but the program has gone unused since being created in 2014 because of House opposition.

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