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Tourism Tax Could Cover County Funds for Braves Spring Training Complex

New Braves Training Camp

Under a plan released by county officials, Sarasota County would use existing tourism tax revenues to cover its contribution to an Atlanta Braves spring training complex.

Negotiations are underway for the proposed complex, which could open in the West Villages area of North Port for spring training of 2019. While there are still numerous layers to sort through, officials have estimated that the total project will cost somewhere in range of $75 million to $80 million, with Sarasota County’s contribution amounting to roughly $22 million.

The tourism tax has previously been identified as a possible funding source for the county. More specifics were revealed on Thursday, however, with county officials stating that existing revenues would cover its payments on the facility. About $1.3 million will be need to be allocated annually to pay off the borrowed $22 million, so the county is proposing to modify the way it distributes the funds from its 5% tourism tax. Steve Botelho, the deputy county administrator and chief financial management officer, offered an explanation on how those payments would be made. More from the Herald-Tribune:

Although the tourist tax generated about $20 million in revenue last year, it’s easiest to imagine it as five pennies levied on every dollar spent on hotel stays or rentals to understand how the revision will work, Botelho said. Portions of each penny are then dedicated, by county ordinance, to specific areas.

The first penny is set aside to support beach maintenance projects and the second is split in half to repay money borrowed for Ed Smith Stadium and Nathan Benderson Park, a county illustration showed. The last two pennies are dedicated to marketing and the arts.

The middle penny is split the most — with portions going toward beach renourishment, beach maintenance, capital projects, events and promotion.

The primary change to fund a contribution for the Braves project would be to swap the beach renourishment funding from the middle penny for the Ed Smith contribution from the second penny. That would not change how much funding is available for renourishment, but it would allow the county to consolidate the Ed Smith and Braves funding into a single source

The practical effect would be that about 15 percent of tourist development tax collections would be dedicated specifically to paying back borrowing for both stadiums and capital improvement agreements for each, Botelho said.

This would cover one portion of the larger private/public funding package that has been proposed. Officials are still seeking a state grant for the project, along with a contribution from the City of North Port. Private contributions would be made by the Braves, as well as the West Villages developers.

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