The issue came up at a gubernatorial debate in Tampa, where the issue of a new Rays ballpark has been a hot issue since the team announced a plan for an Ybor City location. Part of the issue is that the team announced a location without any sort of funding or financing plan, leaving folks to fill in the gaps based on their own assumptions. And, to be honest, there’s been little talk of state aid toward the project, with the team and Hillsborough County assumed to be the biggest contributors.
Still, the issue came up at the gubernatorial debate, and it doesn’t sound like most of the candidates were prepared. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando businessman Chris King all opposed state money for a ballpark, saying that state money would be better spent on on schools and roads. From the Tampa Bay Times:
But former Congresswoman Gwen Graham said she “absolutely” supported public investment in sports teams because “they bring us together.” She suggested the state could contribute from Enterprise Florida, a pot of money that’s typically used as incentives for businesses to grow or relocate, or Visit Florida, the state’s tourism advertising arm.
“We’ve been using Enterprise Florida, Visit Florida dollars for other reasons,” Graham said. “Let’s use them to keep our sports teams here. Let’s use them to create that community feeling that sports brings all across the state of Florida.”
Her opponents disagreed. Gillum was an emphatic “no” because that money is needed for transportation and teacher salaries. Levine was just as clear.
“Why would we want to invest in someone else’s business?” Levine said. “The last time I looked the state of Florida doesn’t own the Rays, it doesn’t own the (Miami) Dolphins, it doesn’t own the (Miami) Marlins. So absolutely not.”
The whole purpose of Enterprise Florida is to invest in the success of Florida businesses, and Enterprise Florida is already a player in the sports field via funding of the Florida Sports Foundation. And spending on sports tourism via Visit Florida isn’t the worst idea; just ask the residents of Sarasota County, who say investment in Ed Smith Stadium for Baltimore Orioles spring training had clear returns on that investment. Still, in the absence of any specific funding plan, no Florida politician is going to heavily commit to state funding for a new Rays ballpark.
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