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.

Orlando approves $84m soccer stadium plan, again

The Orlando city council, which last October unanimously approved an $84 million stadium for the Orlando City Soccer Club that will be paid for about half with public money, approved it again yesterday, because why the heck not?

Yesterday’s vote was apparently on the actual construction and operations agreement, which I can’t find anywhere online, so no clue whether there are any surprises in it. Orlando City S.C. is still looking to get an additional $30 million in state tax kickbacks, which would kick the total stadium cost to $114 million, $70 million of it public dollars.

Orlando City is set to begin play as an MLS expansion team starting in 2015, but the stadium won’t be finished until 2016, meaning the team will likely play its opening season at the Citrus Bowl. The stadium design — which should be interesting, given that even $114 million is pretty cheap for an 18,000-seat soccer stadium — will be revealed later this month, not that that stopped one local TV station from using a rendering of what the stadium almost certainly won’t look like.

Florida senate: Fine, evaluate stadium projects, just don’t let us actually vote on them

The Florida state house may be looking at ways to force stadium subsidies to actually go through a standardized evaluation process, but the state senate isn’t going to let that get in the way of projects sailing through quickly: Senate leaders say they’re fine with the house bill, so long as the legislature doesn’t then have to vote on each project:

“As soon as we set the parameters and setting the methodology for getting this done, there’s no reason for it to come back to the Legislature,” said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, who is pushing a package to provide incentives for the Orlando City Soccer stadium planned for downtown.

The impetus for this amendment is apparently to enable the Orlando City Soccer Club‘s stadium plan to get passed quickly this summer (Altamonte Springs is an Orlando suburb), but it could have significant consequences for other sports projects as well: If it’s just a matter of the state Department of Economic Opportunity checking off some boxes on a tax-break application, there wouldn’t be any public process at all for vetting subsidy requests. This seems like a way huger deal than the Orlando Sentinel is making of it, but maybe I’m misunderstanding the proposal — or maybe it’s just because it’s an Orlando paper reporting on it, so they’re not going to question their local legislators’ pet project too hard.

Florida bill to limit stadium subsidies could end up encouraging more expensive projects

The Florida state bill to rank sports subsidy requests finally made it to committee yesterday (house economic affairs, if you’re scoring at home), and there are a few more details that hadn’t emerged previously:

  • Only projects costing $100 million or more would be eligible, and at least half the project’s funding must be from private sources. Spring training facilities are explicitly ruled out.
  • The bill would set aside $12 million a year in sales tax rebates, enough for six projects (at $2 million a year apiece), but that could later be expanded.
  • Each project must create a “positive return on the state’s investment,” though what this means is left undefined. Toward this end, each application must include “an independent analysis prepared by a certified public accountant” of how much in new sales taxes will be generated by the project. If the sales tax numbers don’t come in as promised within five years, the team would have to repay the subsidy, with a 5% penalty.

(PDF of the bill is here.)

There’s some good here, though there’s also a lot that makes it seem like the Florida legislature has just landed on this planet and discovered that stadium subsidies are a thing. (“Hey, guys, we need some kind of economic analysis. I know, let’s make sure a CPA does it! They’ll totally be qualified to calculate the sales tax substitution effect!”) The requirement that the projects must be half privately funded is somewhat promising, but also something that team owners can easily get around by, say, putting up half the up-front money and then getting repaid by public operating subsidies. At least the $100 million minimum is something that shouldn’t lend itself to any unintended consequences—

[Orlando] is planning an $85 million soccer-only stadium downtown, but could add more amenities with the extra state dollars boosting the project over the $100 million requirement.


Well, anyway, at least it looks like spring training stadiums would get ruled out for state aid

Florida governor Rick Scott used the Tigertown complex as the backdrop to announce a proposal to help cities in his state fund projects for Spring Training facilities to keep teams in the Grapefruit League.

The proposal seeks to establish a $5 million annual fund from which the state would work to match local government funding. The money would be tied specifically to Spring Training facilities.


Florida bill proposes ranking system for which teams get to glom onto tax subsidies first

Hey, remember a few weeks ago when Florida house speaker Will Weatherford announced that he wanted an actual process for deciding which sports teams should get state tax breaks, instead of the time-honored local custom of just throwing all the money in the air and letting team owners stuff whatever they could grab into their shirts? There’s an actual bill now, sponsored by state senator Jack Latvala, and here’s its list of criteria, as related by the Tampa Tribune:

  • The kinds of “signature events” — like Super Bowls, all-star games or racing championships — the facility might attract.
  •  The likely boost in ticket sales and attendance the project would create.
  •  The likelihood of attracting out-of-state visitors.
  •  How long a team has been in the state.
  •  Whether the new or renovated stadium could host a variety of sporting or other events.
  • The ranking process also would give extra points to teams that can put up half or more of the total project funds.

So that, um, a start, I guess? It’s arguably a pretty stupid start — why teams that have been in the state longer should get dibs is unclear, and there’s tons of evidence that “signature events” are essentially worthless to local economies — especially compared to a more reasonable metric like, say, whether a project would actually create a net return on investment for the state. And it sounds like this is just an attempt to create a ranking system for who’d be allowed to dip their beaks first into the state’s annual funding pool (which would be set at $13 million a year), which negates the possibility of deciding that there aren’t $13 million a year of projects worth funding at all.

Still, at least mediocre criteria are criteria, and they can always be tweaked later if (okay, when) they prove to be inadequate and ridiculously easy for team owners to game. Not that I really expect the Florida state legislature to pass bills twice in my lifetime putting more strings on sports subsidies, but in an infinite universe, anything is possible.