Let the games begin: State set to review applications for sports facility tax incentives

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When the Legislature passed HB 7095 creating an annual multi-million pool of tax incentives for sports teams and franchises willing to locate and renovate in the Sunshine State there was sentiment the barrage of lobbying surrounding the incentives would stop.

The law may have sent efforts into overtime, though, as four teams submitted applications totaling $9 million, or $2 million more than what the state has set aside to spend for the first year, which is just $7 million.

The Jacksonville Jaguars hired lobbyist Brian Ballard Group October 28. Three days later, the NFL team submitted an application to the Department of Economic Opportunity seeking $1 million annually for financial incentives to offset improvements being made to EverBank Field, including a jumbo sized video display and wading pools and cabanas.

Ballard Partners is registered to represent a number of sports clients in addition to the Jaguars, including the Miami Heat, Toronto Blue Jays, Miami Beckham United, the New York Mets, and the New York Yankess. The group also represents Daytona International Speedway ,which also submitted an application to the department. The Speedway is seeking $3 million annual incentive.

Joining the Jaguars and the International Speedway on the list of applicants are Orlando City Soccer and the Miami Dolphins. The former applied for a $2 million annual incentive over 30 years while the latter applied for a $3 million incentive over 30 years.

The Department of Economic Opportunity will review the applications over the next 60 days and submit a report to the Florida Legislature by February 1 in rank of importance.

Kathy Russell, director intergovernmental affairs for the Office of the Mayor, said the goal is for Orlando City Soccer “to get ranked No. 1.”

The site of the stadium is now a parking lot. The stadium won’t hold as many as NFL arenas or race tracks  the revenue generated by the first professional soccer team in the state is all new. “Our (sales tax) baseline is zero,” Russell said adding that any revenue generated at the stadium is a return on investment.

For the other applicants estimating the additional economic impact the improvements will generate isn’t as easy.

Sun Life Stadium–where the Dolphins play– is receiving $2 million a year from the state to help convert the stadium for baseball even though the Marlins have since moved out.  The NFL team the  Miami Dolphins, though, has not received any incentives.

The Jaguars,meanwhile, have gotten $2 million annually from the state since entering the NFL in 1995. The deal expires in another 11 years. The Jaguars are seeking up to $1 million annually for the next 30 years for improvements at the stadium.

Miami Dolphins lobbyist Ron Book told SPB that he supports the Jaguars move to tap into a financial incentives, but that the team should have its application approved for the next round of incentives for fiscal year 2015-16.  The state has $13 million in funding for tax incentives next fiscal year. Those incentives require legislative approval.

Book said he did not expect lobbying to influence what projects get funded. Incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and incoming House Speaker Crisafulli, R-Meritt Island, made clear the application process should not be subject to lobbying whims.

“I took these guys at what they said,” Book noted.