When the Florida Panthers owners declared last month that they wanted free rent for the last 14 years of their lease at their Broward County-owned arena, it seemed like a new level of sports owner chutzpah. (In exchange for being allowed to duck out of their $4.5 million in annual rent payments, the team promised only to spend on payroll “at a level competitive with the rest of the National Hockey League,” which was essentially “Send money or we’ll shoot this team.”) But Friday’s Broward County Tourist Development Council meeting made clear that they’d not yet begun to chutzpah:
Florida Panthers officials appeared Friday before the Broward County Tourist Development Council to plead their case for the county to channel millions more in tourist tax dollars to the financially ailing team…
“We’re not too proud to say we need some assistance,” [Panthers CEO Michael] Yormark said.
Well, isn’t that nice! It’s so tiresome when billionaires (or maybe just 35-millionaires — this is the NHL, so who really checks on these things?) stand on pride before asking that their organization that’s turning a sizable profit on running their arena get additional public subsidies. I hope this leads to a whole new era in honesty among rich people, who will be able to go before Congress and request lower tax rates because they’re not ashamed to admit that they need new yachts.
The Panthers’ total rent break demand turns out to be $6.2 million a year for 14 years — a present value of about $61 million — which would actually mean the county would be paying the team to play in Broward for the next 14 years. Plus they want development rights to build a casino on 22 acres of county-owned land, because that’s what all the cool owners are asking for these days.
But anyway, we knew what the Panthers’ owners were going to say, more or less. What did Broward elected officials say? Did we get that derisive snort?
“I don’t think we’re ready for this,” council member Tim Schiavone said. “We’re not in a position to spend that kind of money.”…
But council members were willing to compromise.
“I might be able to find some way to find some relief,” [Hollywood Mayor Peter] Bober said.
“We probably need to slow this down … attempt to find a middle ground,” said council member Bobby DuBose, a Fort Lauderdale city commissioner.
“It may not be the entire ask, but we know at this point that something has to be done,” [county mayor Barbara] Sharief said.
County Administrator Bertha Henry, meanwhile, has written up a 125-page report that says while “we do not advocate consideration for [the Panthers'] request in its totality,” the county should give the team something in order to avoid being left with an empty arena.
Which makes a kind of sense, but, but … did somebody miss the part where Yormark and company wouldn’t actually be extending their lease at all in exchange for the added subsidies? The Panthers are contractually bound to Broward County through 2028, and would still be able to up and leave then even if they were awarded these rent breaks. So the reason for giving the team more tax money would be, I guess, that maybe if we’re real nice to them, we won’t make them mad?
The Broward County Commission begins debate on Tuesday over how much, if anything, to offer to the team. Note to self: Opening with outrageous demands works. At least if you’re a millionaire.