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.

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.

Raiders, Chargers owners say words “Los Angeles,” newspaper writers can mail it in from there

OMG OMG OMG Mark Davis said something nice about Los Angeles! He’s totally moving the Oakland Raiders there!

“Los Angeles is a great option.” Davis said.

An option for the Raiders?

“Absolutely,” he said.

And just to be clear, he added: “Sure. We loved it when we were down here.”

And San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos said something nice about it, too, so the Chargers are totally moving there too!

“We’re looking into all our possibilities, all our options,” Spanos said.

Does that mean potentially re-locating to Los Angeles?

“I’m just keeping all my options open,” Spanos said.

And Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan hasn’t said anything about Los Angeles, so they’re totally not moving there!

Of course, cynical types might point out that sports team owners say these kinds of things all the time, whether they’re actually interested in moving or just trying to put pressure on hometown elected officials to get cracking on stadium subsidies. (Or both. There’s nothing saying owners can’t work both sides of this street.) But we don’t allow cynical types around here, so let’s welcome your 2015 Los Angeles Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers! They’ll totally find a vacant lot to play in by then.

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.

Here’s the $43m scoreboard that Jacksonville taxpayers are buying for the Jaguars

If you’ve been wondering what $43 million in new end-zone scoreboards looks like, here you go, courtesy of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ crack computer rendering squad:

Yup, that’s real big, all right. It probably won’t look so great when the city of Jacksonville runs out of money to maintain the stadium because it spent the whole maintenance fund on new scoreboards (or, more likely, it’ll look just fine but something else in Jacksonville will get the short end of the stick to replenish the maintenance fund), but hey, everything has to be bigger, right?


Jacksonville to pay for Jaguars scoreboards by raiding maintenance fund

The city of Jacksonville, which back in June announced that it would be spending $43 million on new scoreboards for the Jaguars but it didn’t know where the money would come from, now appears to have found $43 million under the sofa cushions:

The city’s share will come from the Sports Complex Capital Maintenance Fund, which is already being directed towards the stadium. … The city will issue bonds for its $43 million share and then pay off those bonds with the money put into the maintenance fund, approximately $4 million to $5 million annually. The Sports Complex Capital Maintenance Fund gets its money from a 2 percent tax on hotel guests, part of the 6 percent hospitality tax levied by the city. The fund was established in 2009.

Only one problem: As the Florida Times-Union previously reported, using the maintenance fund for capital improvements means it’s not there for maintenance, and there’s already “a long list of stadium maintenance upgrades” that need to be done. None of the press coverage of yesterday’s announcement bothered to mention that, but then, when you have a media universe where ESPN runs the headline “Khan kicks in $20M to help stadium” when the Jaguars owner already promised that months ago — and it’s less than half what the public will be kicking in — we’re not exactly talking prize-winning journalism here.

Stadium news roundup, special July 4th week haven’t-been-paying-attention edition

Catching up on some of the week’s news that slipped by while I was traveling (full reporting here will return late Monday, or maybe Tuesday depending on how much sleep I get on the plane):

Jacksonville has no clue how to pay for Jaguars’ $43m scoreboards, costs could rise further

Yesterday morning I noted that the city of Jacksonville doesn’t know how it’ll pay for its $43 million share of stadium upgrades for the Jaguars; yesterday afternoon, a spokesperson for Mayor Alvin Brown announced that, nope, still no clue. And the city council seems to have taken notice as well, even if they don’t all see it as a big problem:

  • Councilmember Clay Yarborough told the Florida Times-Union that “at first glance” he doesn’t see how the city could close libraries and cut core services while spending money on humongous scoreboards for the Jaguars.
  • Councilmember Bill Gulliford said announcing the improvements and then figuring out how to pay for them later is like “sending the fire truck after the building is burned down.”
  • Councilmember Matt Schellenberg called it “a big win for Jacksonville,” but said he was “very concerned the mayor makes these announcements without having the backup financial information that everybody can look at and feel comfortable that it can be done.” But it’s still a big win, presumably regardless of whether it can be done.
  • Council president Bill Bishop said, “We have to stay current. We have to be sure we’re competitive, not only in the NFL but in the world. This is all part of moving Jacksonville forward.”

And the city’s costs could go even higher: Jacksonville’s contract for hosting the annual Florida-Georgia college football game requires 82,000 seats, which is currently met by adding 6,000 temporary bleacher seats to the 76,000-seat stadium. Since the Jaguars are looking to remove another 7,000 seats in the renovation — because NFL teams have realized they can’t actually sell that many tickets to an HDTV-obsessed generation, and they want to avoid blackouts — this would more than double the amount of temporary seats the city would need to set up, adding “several hundred thousand dollars” in annual costs, per the Times-Union.

Meanwhile, on Mike Florio watch, the NBC Sports NFL-water-carrier noted the lack of funding by linking to the Times-Union story:

Lost in Wednesday’s announcement that $63 million will be devoted to upgrading EverBank Field was one fairly significant fact.

The City of Jacksonville doesn’t know how it will come up with its $43 million share.

I guess that’s Florioese for “Oops, did I forget to ask how it’d be paid for?”

Florio also manages to argue that this shouldn’t be decried as “welfare for billionaires,” because “most of the teams trying to raid public coffers haven’t committed to playing one game per year for the next four years in London, with strong hints that the plan could be extended and expanded.” In other words, it’s okay to give $43 million to your local sports team for no good reason, so long as that team’s owner not only isn’t committing to staying in town, but might actually shift more games out of town even if you give him the money. Remind me not to go to NBC Sports for relationship advice.

Jaguars asking Jacksonville for $43m so they can have the biggest scoreboards on the block

In the latest sign that the Dallas Cowboys have created a monster, the Jacksonville Jaguars owners announced yesterday that they’ll be building not one but two giant video boards, measuring 55 by 301 feet each, in each end zone of EverBank Field. That’s “one foot longer than the length of the field,” notes NBC Sports’ Mike Florio.

The new screens, plus additional renovations that will remove 7,000 seats, will cost $63 million and, according to Florio, the team will pay for $20 million, while the city of Jacksonville will pay $43 million. The Jacksonville city council still has to figure out where the money will come from, but Gator Bowl Association president Rick Catlett says the council shouldn’t worry its little minds about that:

Catlett said the focus should not be on what this project will cost, but on the tens of millions of dollars the city would lose if it lost some of the national, high-profile events currently held in Jacksonville.

Because in exchange for this, the Jaguars and the Gator Bowl agreed to lease extensions that would … no? No lease extensions? Well, at least now the Jaguars and the Gator Bowl will be happy, and who can put a price on happiness? At least until scoreboards that are merely 2D and no bigger than the field become hopelessly passe.

Florida bill to subsidize soccer stadiums clears first committee vote

That bill to give sales-tax kickbacks to pretty much any sports franchise in Florida that doesn’t already get them moved ahead yesterday, as a state senate committee unanimously approved giving $2 million a year to two MLS franchises for the next 30 years. For good measure, the senate commerce and tourism committee also approved giving added tax breaks to Lockheed Martin and Fidelity National, which have already gotten nearly $7 million in subsidies apiece, and could still consider requests for additional money from the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars.

For those keeping score, if the MLS bill is signed into law, it would leave the Orlando City Soccer Club just $45 million short of its $75 million subsidy demand for a new stadium. ($2 million a year for 30 years adds up to just $30 million in present-day expenses because some of it would have to pay for interest on bonds.) It would also potentially open up a road to subsidies for these guys, though they’d have to actually join a real league first.