Orlando City to give back subsidies and fund own soccer stadium, in world’s first June Fools joke

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.

Orlando mayor says soccer stadium approved two years ago won’t happen unless state kicks in $30m more

Back when the city of Orlando and Orange County approved $40 million in subsidies for Orlando City S.C. in 2013, it was supposed to be enough to cover the cost of an $85 million soccer stadium, with plans to add more bells and whistles — more luxury seating, a second “executive club,” and more advertising boards — if $30 million in additional state tax breaks came through. Now, though, with site prep for the stadium still in the early stages, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer is suddenly saying the state sales tax rebate is “integral” to the project, and without it … something. Something bad.

You can’t really blame Dyer, since it’s not his money that’s at stake here — I mean, it is his citizens’ money, since they’re Florida taxpayers, but it doesn’t come out of his budget — so it makes sense for him to pull out all the stops to lean on the state legislature to approve the cash. One would hope that state legislators would instead look at the facts that past state sports subsidies have only returned 30 cents on the dollar and that the Orlando project is only promising to create 60 jobs and politely decline Dyer’s demands, but this is Florida, so probably not.

Orlando City draw 62,000 to Citrus Bowl, showing why they need new stadium, or something

Orlando City S.C. may want to increase the size of its new soccer stadium because the club just played its first ever MLS game, and sold 62,000 tickets for it. Because certainly 62,000 people turning up at the Citrus Bowl shows that you could never draw 62,000 fans if the team played at, say, the Citrus Bowl.

Team execs are saying the new stadium could go as high as 28,000 seats, which would be the largest MLS soccer-specific stadium, Fox 35 reports. If any of them said anything about increased cost or how it would be paid for, Fox 35 can’t be bothered to tell you that.

Florida legislators gripe that they have to decide which teams to throw money at

It turns out that the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity really was supposed to rank sports subsidy requests instead of just telling the legislature “yeah, these are all good,” and at least a couple of state legislators aren’t happy about it at all:

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, and Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, announced Friday they have asked economist Amy Baker to use documents submitted by backers of the four stadiums and the Department of Economic Opportunity’s evaluation forms.

“It would be a great disservice to ask members to vote on these projects without an objective ranking,” Crisafulli said in the statement. He added, “We believe we will be able to get the results before session.”

Baker runs the legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, so basically the legislature is having to rank the projects themselves anyway. And lawmakers are still set to hand out $7 million to the four projects — all of which are already underway, so would take place with or without the subsidies — so the only thing that is going to be decided here is who gets what, and who’ll have to wait until another $13 million in state subsidies is available next year. So really, the legislature is paying one of its staff to decide how the Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Orlando City S.C., or the Daytona International Speedway divvy up the money. I’d suggest a simpler solution.

Florida economic panel rules everybody should get tax money for stadiums they already agreed to build

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has issued its long-awaited (well, for a couple of months, anyway) ruling on which of the four finalists for state sales-tax subsidies are to get priority, and the answer is: all of them!

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity advised Jacksonville, Orlando, Daytona International Speedway and Sun Life Stadium that their applications met all “statutory criteria.” In a letter, the department also recommended that lawmakers could approve all four.

Daytona International Speedway and Sun Life Stadium are each seeking $3 million a year for 30 years for ongoing improvements to those facilities. Orlando has requested $2 million a year for three decades to help pay for a planned $110 million soccer stadium. Jacksonville, with its application supported by the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, has asked for $1 million a year for three decades.

This is jaw-droppingly dumb, since the whole point of this process of having teams seeking state subsidies to submit standardized forms to a state agency was to come up with a ranking for who’d get first dibs on the money; instead, the state legislature will now have to decide who gets what, which is exactly as it would have been anyway. It’s also dumb because, as an analysis of past state sports subsidies found, Florida has only received 30 cents of return on each dollar spent on stadium and arena projects. And finally, it’s dumb because all four of these projects — renovations to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins stadiums and to the Daytona Speedway, plus a new stadium for Orlando City S.C. — are already underway, meaning whatever economic benefit the state would get from them, it’ll happen regardless of whether the state decides to divert public money their way after the fact.

If there’s a bright side, it’s that the four sports entities have demanded $9 million a year in funding, and there’s only $7 million in the state’s available sales-tax fund, so the Joint Legislative Budget Commission will have to figure out somehow who’s going to see their subsidy demands trimmed. This is a bright side, however, only in the sense of “The bank just got robbed, but they ran out of money before the robbers’ bags were full.” Also, there’s nothing stopping the state from approving more money later, which means if these teams (and more) don’t get what they want this round, they can just come back for more. Congratulations, Florida — you appear to have just invented the first self-replenishing cat feeder of sports subsidies.

Orlando City S.C. promises stadium subsidy will create 60 new permanent jobs, like this is a good thing

And hey, speaking of Florida and stadiums and job creation, somebody went to the trouble of actually reading Orlando City S.C.‘s application for state subsidies for their new $115 million soccer stadium, and found the number of permanent jobs the team is promising to create: 60. That’s six-zero. As blogger and frequent Orlando mayoral candidate Mike Cantone (who unfortunately doesn’t provide a link to the team’s application) puts it:

This is quite the contrast to claims made by Mayor Buddy Dyer and other elected officials during the controversial process of pushing through the stadium. In fact, Fox 35 News reported in October: “Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said this will create thousands of jobs, both during the stadium’s construction and with its operation once it’s built.”

“We’re going to use our blueprint program. And we are going to employee 3,000 people through that program, and we have a target ex-offenders, homeless and Parramore residents, but it’s not exclusive through that,” said Dyer in mid-October.

If the state tax kickback request is approved, the city, county, and state combined will be providing about $70 million in subsidies to the soccer project. Divide that by 60 jobs, and we get $1.17 million in cost per permanent job created. In terms of job creation, Orlando really would have been better off renting Allen Sanderson’s proverbial helicopter.

Florida’s sports teams drop 2,000-plus pages of subsidy requests on state

Apparently alongside filling out the cracktastic application form, contenders for Florida’s new process for doling out sales-tax kickbacks for sports projects are allowed to submit additional material. And oh, what additional material:

Based upon sheer paper volume, Orlando and Jacksonville would be the front-runners in the new funding process.

The application from Jacksonville, supported by the Jacksonville Jaguars, stands at 954 pages.

Orlando, working to assist the Major League Soccer expansion Orlando City Soccer Club with a new 18,000-seat stadium, submitted a 1,144-page application.

Less bulky, Daytona International Speedway LLC filed a 110-page application. South Florida Stadium LLC, filing for the Miami Dolphins’ home, submitted 219 pages of material.

Included in these 2,000-plus pages are promises of new jobs, and new tourists, and new new new new! Also most of the work is already underway, so wouldn’t actually be new in the sense of “wouldn’t happen without the subsidies.” But, you know, details! Details that staffers at the state Department of Economic Opportunity will now have to dig through and analyze, which hopefully will mean more than just checking off which boxes the various applicants have provided screwy justifications for, but I’m not exactly holding my breath.

Florida to use standardized ranking to pick which sports projects to throw money at for no good reason

The state of Florida accepted its first applications for its new official state-vetted sports tax kickbacks process yesterday, and the finalists are:

  • The Miami Dolphins, seeking $3 million a year in sales tax rebates.
  • Daytona International Speedway, likewise seeking $3 million a year.
  • Orlando City SC, seeking $2 million a year.
  • The Jacksonville Jaguars, out for a piddly $1 million per annum.

The state Department of Economic Opportunity will now spend the next 60 days ranking the applications by “economic viability,” to evaluate each application within 60 days and by Feb. 1 provide the Legislature with a list that ranks the applications based on economic viability. According to the application form, the list of criteria runs from the sort-of-reasonable (jobs created, though there’s no indication of how to calculate this or whether they’re full-time-equivalent jobs) to the completely cracktastic (“amount of positive advertising or media coverage the facility generates”), with seemingly random thresholds for whether a project gets awarded 1, 2, or 3 points per item.

The worst of it, though, is that the applications all appear to be for projects that are already underway, meaning the number of new jobs and Super Bowls and “positive advertising” that will be generated if the teams get the subsidies vs. if they don’t is precisely zero. Yet the state legislature will now have no opportunity to discuss how stupid this is, nor will citizens have the chance to testify about this, because instead it’s all outsourced to a bunch of state workers with a checklist — all to reduce the amount of lobbying pressure on the legislature over sports projects. Florida continues to be the worst.

Orlando not evicting church to make way for soccer stadium after all

The city of Orlando has dropped its eminent-domain suit against a church that stood in the way of its planned Orlando City Soccer Club stadium, and has instead bought a neighboring parcel that will allow the stadium to be shifted one block west. So yay for Faith Deliverance Temple, which doesn’t have to move, and for the city of Orlando, which saves at least $2 million by buying a cheaper piece of property, and for Orlando City (the team), which can now open its new stadium by 2016 at least, maybe.

(The city and county will still be on the hook for $40 million, and the state for another $30 million that was approved in May. But hey, every couple of million counts.)

Orlando officials determined Citrus Bowl refit for MLS would be too pricey, but didn’t write it down

Orange County Commissioner Ted Edwards, one of two members of that body to vote against last fall’s approval of $20 million in county money toward a new stadium for Orlando City S.C., has charged MLS with hoodwinking local officials into believing that a soccer-only stadium was the only way to get a team:

Edwards said he’s learning other cities are getting many options for new or rebuilt stadiums to attract soccer teams.

Edwards said that he’s never seen a study to prove a newly overhauled Citrus Bowl could not handle pro soccer.

“I think we were misled by Major League Soccer,” Edwards said. “I think, [from] the body language I’m getting from other commissioners, I think they were told the same thing.”

The prompt for Edwards’ statements is, no doubt, the fact that Atlanta and New York are now both getting new MLS teams that will play in facilities built for other sports. This has to create some buyers’ remorse for Orlando officials, though in this case, Edwards seems to have been pre-remorsed.

Edwards yesterday also demanded that local officials provide proof that redoing the Citrus Bowl for soccer would have been a more expensive option than building anew. The answer: We know it’s true, but we didn’t write it down:

“There isn’t any documentation,” said Heather Fagan, deputy chief of staff at Orlando City Hall. “Having said that, it was more than just ‘chatting over coffee.’

“We asked our architects working on the Citrus Bowl project to evaluate incorporating MLS-requirements into the Citrus Bowl reconstruction. The architects came back and informed us it would be more cost-prohibitive then building a new stadium.”

And from County Mayor Teresa Jacobs:

Jacobs said she relied on county staff to analyze other MLS venues to determine if a Citrus Bowl retrofit could accommodate a pro soccer team, and they deemed it too costly. That appraisal, Jacobs said, “made walking around sense,” though she now would prefer if the Citrus Bowl retrofit estimates were documented.

So let me get this straight: You sent your staff to calculate how much it would cost to refit the Citrus Bowl for soccer, and they just said “a lot” and you left it at that? I know what I want my next job to be: Florida government economist. I bet I wouldn’t even have to crack open my copy of Excel.