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Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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Legislation sets up ‘process’ to allow public money for sports stadiums

TALLAHASSEE — The Tampa Bay Rays and other sports teams soon could apply for public money to build stadiums under a bill approved Tuesday by the House’s budget panel.

That’s if the Rays want to. And they’re not saying.

The Rays have made no secret they would like a new stadium. Team executives have refused to say whether they would ask that sales-tax rebate money fund part of a new stadium, a move that House bill (HB 7095) would permit.

The House Appropriations committee cleared the bill on a 25-2 vote. It should next be discussed on the House floor.

Bill sponsor Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, said he hasn’t spoken with Rays representatives this year about his proposal.

“There’s definitely a desire” from other interests, Patronis said after the meeting. “Last year, we were approached from all different angles.”

Using taxpayer money to build or renovate sporting centers has caused heartburn among policymakers and constituents alike. Some experts say publicly financed stadium deals often don’t provide the economic boost that club owners promise.

The Senate is poised to vote on another measure that would direct state sales-tax dollars toward improvements at Daytona International Speedway.

But the only way House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, will agree with the Legislature giving public money to sports stadiums is through a competition of sorts.

Under the House plan, teams would line up before the Department of Economic Opportunity to show which has the most worthy project.

Patronis called his measure “a template, a form, a gateway for these guys to go through, to show us factual data we can sink our teeth into.”

His bill would provide for the ranking of proposals on several factors, including the following:

♦ Ability to provide a return on the state’s investment.

♦ How long a team promises to use the stadium.

♦ Whether the new stadium could host a variety of sporting or other events.

♦ The kinds of “signature events” — like Super Bowls, all-star games or racing championships — the facility might attract.

♦ The number of temporary and ongoing jobs the stadium will create.

The maximum available in any given year would be $12 million under the House plan, but stadiums could get funding for 30 years.

An individual project would have to cost over $100 million; more than half would have to come from private sources.

The state already directs up to $2 million a year in sales-tax dollars to each of eight sports centers: Sun Life Stadium in Miami-Dade County, EverBank Field in Jacksonville, BB&T Center in Broward County, American Airlines Arena in Miami, the Amway Center in Orlando, Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, and Raymond James Stadium and the Forum in Tampa.

A number of other proposals died last year, including one that would have funded improvements to the Miami Dolphins stadium.

Dolphins lobbyist Ron Book told the committee the House bill needs work but “allows all of us in professional sports to know what the rules are and to come forward with applications.”

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