Florida lawmakers have advanced a bill that would prevent counties from using certain funds to finance professional sports facilities, but concerns are being raised about how it could affect spring training complexes in the state.
The bill, HB 1369, is designed to scale back the control that Florida counties have in funding professional sports facility projects. Specifically, it would prevent counties from drawing on revenue from tourism-development (hotel/motel) and convention-development taxes to pay off bonds from constructing new facilities or renovating existing venues for professional sports franchises. The proposal took a step forward on Monday, when it cleared the House Ways & Means Committee.
Proponents of the bill argue that professional sports facilities should be financed by private investors. As the discussion continues, however, some lawmakers–including a few that voted to advance the bill out of committee–want more information on its potential impact on spring training venues, believing that complexes around the state and the teams that use them provide benefits to their local economy. More from FloridaPolitics.com:
“If these franchises and the stadiums they build are as lucrative as is explained, there will be plenty of private investors willing to participate in their financing,” bill sponsor Cary Pigman said.
While voting for the bill, Rep. Colleen Burton and Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen said more information is needed about the bill’s potential impact on communities that house spring-training facilities, such as Lakeland, which has hosted the Detroit Tigers spring training since the 1930s.
“I’m a huge fan of the Tigers and what they bring to our community,” Burton said. “They (annually) bring $63 million, roughly, of economic development impact to our community. Eighty-four years is a very, very long time. They’re in place right now to extend that to 100 years already.”
Tourism-development dollars in particular have been a widely used funding source for spring-training complex projects around the state–including renovations to Dunedin’s TD Ballpark and the off-site Englebert Complex that will be completed this year–and are already planned as a funding source for potential upgrades to Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium (pictured above) and the surrounding complex. The bill could therefore potentially affect how new or renovated spring-training facilities are planned in the future, though–with debate over the proposal still in the fairly early stages–there will be plenty of discussion before it is determined whether it becomes law and whether it ultimately impacts future spring training complex planning. It would take effect on July 1, 2020 if it does clear all necessary approvals.