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Hillsborough Nearing High Tourism Impact Status

Tampa Bay Rays

In competing for a new Tampa Bay Rays ballparkHillsborough County may receive a boost through high impact tourism status

Discussions in Hillsborough County have centered around building a new Rays ballpark in or around downtown Tampa. Many ideas have included the possibility of leveraging tourism tax dollars to do so, and the county is on the cusp of increased flexibility over the control of that funding source.

In Florida, counties become designated as high impact tourism areas when they generate $30 million in bed tax revenue within a year. Once a county obtains that status, its officials are granted the option to increase the bed tax to 6%, one percent above the state’s standard of 5%.

For Hillsborough County the first six months of 2016 generated $19.4 million in bed tax revenue, representing a nearly 9% increase over the same period in 2015. Considering that last year ended with Hillsborough County falling just $2.2 million short of the $30 million threshold, this development is welcomed by county officials. More from the Tampa Bay Times:

“Even if it dips below what we are currently projecting we should still make it,” said Patrick Harrison, the vice president of marketing and communications for Visit Tampa Bay.

 The existing bed tax is a 5 percent tax on hotels and other lodging establishments. If Hillsborough County secures the “high impact tourism” distinction by the state, it is authorized to raise that bed tax to 6 cents — which could mean an extra $6 million in revenue for new development projects like a new stadium.

“It’s huge,” county commissioner Ken Hagan said earlier this year about the levy, which is expected to be an important piece of funding if the county decides to finance a new stadium. Five of the seven county commissioners must vote to increase the bed tax.

To be sure it surpasses the $30 million threshold, the agency this week is launching a fall advertising campaign to attract visitors from Chicago, Dallas and Orlando for spontaneous weekend getaways.

Certainly if Hillsborough County intends to fund a ballpark through this source, the high impact tourism area status will bolster its chances. However, it is worth noting that neighboring Pinellas County obtained high tourism impact status when it surpassed $30 million in bed tax revenue in 2013. Though it was not an immediate decision, Pinellas County did eventually vote to increase its bed tax to 6%.

Pinellas County is also in the mix for the Rays, having discussed numerous locations for a ballpark around the county, including the land surrounding Tropicana Field. The Rays’ preferences for a site will ultimately be a major part of the bid for either county and, given the cost variances among locations, might have to be pinned down before the funding model takes its final shape. If it is able to reach the $30 million threshold, though, Hillsborough County will suddenly be able to leverage an otherwise unobtainable tax increase to lure the Rays into its borders.

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