I’ve been pretty much out of commission today (will catch up on Monday), but this news item required a quick response:
Team owner Flávio Augusto da Silva announced Friday the franchise will privately finance the construction of its downtown soccer-specific stadium. The stadium, originally envisioned and pitched as a city-owned venue, will now be owned and operated privately by Orlando City.
Wait, what? The same Orlando City S.C. that got $40 million in city and county subsidies two years ago? And which was demanding another $30 million from the state? Suddenly da Silva found $70 million in his other pair of pants, and now he doesn’t need public money after all?
The arrangement will save the City of Orlando more than $15 million it had pledged for the project, in land and construction funding — and will bring in additional tax revenue for the city, because the privately-owned stadium will generate property taxes…
In addition to privately financing the stadium, which officials said is expected to cost more than the originally-projected $115 million, Orlando City will buy back the stadium land from the city.
There are a few possibilities here. One is that it is Christmas, or maybe the Rapture, and from now on sports team owners will decide that asking the public to pay their bills is just wrong, so from now on we’ll be paying construction bills and our taxes alike! A related, slightly less implausible scenario is that the Orlando City owners decided that they’d lose a pile of money if they didn’t break ground soon and had to delay their stadium’s opening, so throwing in $70 million in cash plus the cost of land plus property taxes until the end of time is totally worth it.
Or — and I’m sure some of you have thought of this already — maybe there’s another shoe to drop. I’m not sure what this would be (the da Silva press statement doesn’t leave a lot of loopholes for hidden subsidies, though having the city somehow cover operating costs would be one possibility), but there are a lot of suspicious factors here: The notion of a sports team owner willingly giving up already-approved subsidies, for one, but also the timing of this announcement on a Friday afternoon, when there’s little time for journalists to research WTF he’s on about before having to file their stories (and web videos) and head home for the weekend.
And unfortunately, I can’t do much better than that today, other than to raise a skeptical eyebrow and plan on following up on Monday. In the meantime, I certainly hope this is for real, and not one of those hoaxes that the kids today like to put over on gullible journalists.