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Wednesday, Jun 20, 2018
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Editorial: Stadium funding proposals deserve support

It seems only fair that professional sports teams should be required to compete among themselves when asking for public money to build a new stadium or make improvements to existing ones.

The Florida Legislature this year is considering similar measures in the House and Senate that would rank the various stadium funding requests each year and set an annual cap for the amount of money the state would make available.

The proposals make sense and should be supported by lawmakers. Agreeing on a process for evaluating funding requests puts each of the teams on equal footing. It gives the owners and the fans in a particular city a better understanding of why a request is approved or denied, and it establishes accountability measures to ensure the teams are living up to their end of the bargain.

Professional sports is big business in Florida, and the state can justify making sensible investments in the facilities where the teams play. Successful teams generate sales tax revenue and attract overnight visitors who pay bed taxes. The teams also help promote the state and the cities where they play.

These measures aren’t asking taxpayers to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new stadium for a wealthy owner. The bills cap the state’s total disbursement for stadiums each year at $12 million or $13 million, and they limit each applicant to receiving no more than $2 million or $3 million each year.

By and large, this money would benefit public facilities that host plenty of events other than the games played by their most famous tenants.

With the arrival next year of a Major League Soccer franchise in Orlando, the state will have 10 major league sports franchises playing in stadiums throughout Florida.

In addition, the state is home to 33 minor league franchises in various sports, three Arena Football League teams and two NASCAR tracks, according to a state analysis of the Senate bill. Fifteen Major League Baseball teams spend February and March at spring training at facilities in Florida.

The state already awards $2 million in sales taxes each year for the facilities where eight of the major league sports franchises play, including Tropicana Field and Raymond James Stadium. The bills being considered would replace the piecemeal process of awarding the state money and replace it with a defined set of rules for teams to follow.

The state’s Department of Economic Opportunity would rank the proposals based on a team’s ability to have a positive impact on the state. Among the criteria: the length of time a team has agreed to use the stadium; the number of signature events a facility is likely to host; a facility’s multiuse capabilities; how many Floridians a facility is projected to employ; and how well it will draw tourists.

Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who introduced the Senate bill, said the measures are about creating a process for awarding the money. Last year, there were hard feelings when funding requests that would have benefited facilities in Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville and Daytona Beach were blocked in the House.

The teams and local governments vying for this money deserve to be treated fairly, and these bills will go a long way toward achieving that goal. But they also protect taxpayers from the state blindly tossing money at professional sports.

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