Pro sports teams in Florida seeking help from state

Associated PressMarch 11, 2013 

TALLAHASSEE -- For the past two decades, Florida taxpayers have paid millions to turn the state into a sports mecca.

The money has paid for repairs, renovations and construction of stadiums and arenas that are home to professional football, hockey, baseball and basketball teams.

The state also has shelled out money to spruce up ballparks used by Major League Baseball teams for spring training.

The total so far: close to $300 million since 1994.

The list of those getting help -- and the amount spent by the state -- could get even larger this year if state legislators and Gov. Rick Scott agree.

Bills moving in this year's session could help the Miami Dolphins and the Jacksonville Jaguars renovate their stadiums. One bill would help build a soccer stadium,

probably in Orlando, andother legislation would pay for improvements to Daytona International Speedway.

But already, pressure is building against some of the bills, especially a push for the state to pay $3 million a year for the next 30 years for improvements to Sun Life Stadium, home to the Dolphins and the University of Miami Hurricanes.

Proponents say a renovated stadium will help Florida secure the Super Bowl in 2016. And a common argument in favor of all the sports incentives is that they will spur job creation and help hotels and restaurants.

But critics, including legislators from Miami-Dade County, say Dolphins owner Stephen Ross should use his own money to pay for stadium upgrades.

Sun Life Stadium is still getting $2 million a yearfrom the state that was used to convert it for baseball use even though the Miami Marlins have since moved out.

The push by professional sports teams comes as legislators question some of the state's existing economic development incentives. Some of the deals have gone bust.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart and the Senate budget chief, says he won't support any new incentives for sports teams unless the state finds a way to pay for them.

A Senate panel, for example, this week approved the elimination of a 30-year-old tax break for banks in order to pay for the Dolphins stadium bill.

It's unclear, however, what will happen if any of the bills reach Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott has drawn up a list of five principles for local communities and pro sports teams seeking money from Tallahassee.

They include a requirement that local governments and team owners provide matching money for any stadium upgrades.

The governor also would like each sports deal re-evaluated every five years and to put in a payback provision if the deal does not generate as much money as initially promised.

And the governor would like a requirement that a team remains in place during the time that any state-backed bonds are being paid off.

If an owner moves the team, Scott would like them to pay back the money they had received.

"I'm responsible for the taxpayers of the state," Scott said this week when asked about the Dolphins. "Is it a good use of taxpayer money and can we get a return?"

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