Florida house speaker: No new sales tax “checks” for stadiums this year

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, who said earlier this week that he’d be introducing a bill to require sports teams to show they actually have a reason to ask for sales-tax kickbacks, upped the ante slightly yesterday by declaring that he doesn’t intend on approving any sports subsidies this year at all:

“Our focus right now is on a process that treats everyone equitably and not writing any checks,” Weatherford said during an interview with The News Service of Florida in his Capitol office.

Currently, the state of Florida pays $2 million a year to the Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Heat, and Orlando Magic in exchange for the teams doing the state the favor of existing. (The Miami Marlins got left off this list after getting the $2 million a year break for their previous stadium, but did get everything else they wanted, so no complaining.) Right now the Orlando City Soccer Club, David Beckham’s as-yet-unnamed Miami MLS expansion team, and the Daytona International Speedway are all lining up to ask for sales-tax rebates as well, but it sounds like they’re going to have to wait — until next year, anyway, when Weatherford will, at the ripe old age of 35, be term-limited out of office. If Weatherford has his way, by then there will be new laws requiring team owners to “go through the process with the Department of Economic Opportunity just like everybody else does that wants to create jobs in Florida” to prove that their projects will provide a return on the state’s investment, though it remains to be seen whether he has a chance in hell of getting it through the state senate, which has historically been much more lenient about this kind of thing.

GOP to introduce “We Built This!” slogan in taxpayer-built arena

Most jaw-dropping story of the day:

“We Built This” (the GOP’s “Call Me Maybe”), is the catchphrase of the season, and it’ll be a major theme of the Republican National Convention at the end of this month. The irony? They’ll be holding that convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, formerly the Tampa Bay Ice Palace, which was publicly financed.  The Daily Dolt, a humor/politics site pointed out the irony first and according to the National Sports Law Institute of Marquette University Law School, 62 percent of the funding that built the Tampa Bay Times Forum a.k.a. The Tampa Bay Ice Palace in 1996 came from public funds to the tune of about $86 million. Kind of kills that idea that it doesn’t take a village, right?

(Actually, counting property tax breaks and other public costs, taxpayers put up $167 million towards the arena, or 103% of the construction cost, according to Judtih Grant Long’s figures.)

This promises to be so awesome that I almost hope the Republican convention isn’t creamed by a hurricane that leaves GOP leaders having to try to explain how this has nothing at all to do with fossil-fuel-induced climate change. Almost.

Lightning seeking $40m in public cash for arena upgrades

So here’s how my day is going so far: I finally finish posting this morning’s stadium news updates, then get a call from a Minneapolis Public Radio reporter wanting to set up a live appearance for me to talk about the ongoing Vikings stadium controversy. (It’ll be airing next Wednesday between 10 and 11 am CST, for those who want to tune in.) One of the questions asked is whether we’re really going to be tearing down 1990s-era stadiums like Camden Yards to build new ones only 20-30 years later; I allow that what’s probably more likely is teams demanding major publicly funded upgrades, a la the Kansas City Royals and Chiefs with their 30-something stadiums a few years back.

I return to my computer, and an email from a reader alerts me to this news item:

The Tampa Bay Lightning plans to announce roughly $40 million in renovations to the St. Pete Times Forum that the team hopes will significantly improve the hockey game and concert-going experience.

Documents obtained from Hillsborough County indicate that the team’s new owners want to get reimbursed for much of the work with tourist taxes.

The original deal for building the St. Pete Times Forum — in 1996 — included a provision for paying for future improvements with tax money, but apparently the Lightning owners want more than was provided then, so they’re looking to get added subsidies in exchange for a lease extension. Yet another example of how arena deals can be the gift that keeps on giving, if the people negotiating the lease from the public side are clueless enough.

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to hearing how “replacing all of the seats within the arena with new blue ones to match the team’s new colors” (one of the new reno list items) would represent a “significant upgrade” to the concert experience. Unless they plan on requiring Justin Bieber to dye his hair blue and white to match.