McKechnie Field a homeless shelter?
State Sen. Mike Bennett, R–Bradenton, filed legislation Thursday to require counties and sports franchises in Florida to obey a current law that requires professional sports franchises receiving Florida taxpayers dollars to allow their stadiums and arenas to be utilized as homeless shelters when not reserved for other functions.
McKechnie Field is not what Bennett had in mind.
“I’m talking about the Bucs, Dolphins, Marlins, Magic -- any franchise cities were giving taxpayers money to,” Bennett said. “McKechnie is not in the game.”
According to the senate president pro tempore, in 1988 a legislator from Miami was able to secure $60 million in funding that eventually enabled the Florida Marlins to use Dolphin Stadium when they began play in 1993.
That legislation stipulated the stadium -- and future tax-supported stadiums and arenas -- come up with a homeless program.
Bennett found that none of the sports franchises or counties involved have implemented the 23-year-old statute.
So he is now seeking reimbursement to the taxpayers of Florida.
An excerpt from the legislation (Senate Bill 816) reads, “requiring the professional sports franchise and the county to refund any financial assistance received from the state which benefited the facility during the period that the facility failed to operate a homeless shelter.”
“The city of Miami owes the state money,” Bennett said. “I don’t think we’re going to get it, but I find it objectionable.
“I cannot believe we tax a person who is making a living catching mullet in Sarasota Bay and then take that tax money and send it to a billionaire in Miami so they can have a fancier stadium.”
A longtime proponent of stopping state funding of sports stadiums without local referendums, Bennett believes this is another example of how taxpayers supplement wealthy owners of professional sports franchises while Florida taxpayers are receiving little in return.
“I love going to ballgames as much as anybody,” he said. “But when we’re cutting funding for schools and Medicaid and other vital areas, this is not right. There are just so many other things we can do with that money.”
While interested in Bennett’s measure, local officials were confident Bradenton and McKechnie Field -- city-owned and leased by the Pirates -- were not part of his agenda.
“We have a history of working with the homeless and homeless providers, so this would not pertain to the City of Bradenton,” said Vice-Mayor Patrick Roff, referring to a network that includes the Salvation Army, Manatee Glens, HOPE Family Services and other agencies and group homes.
“Bradenton is one of the best examples of a community doing it,” Roff said. “We’re ahead of the game.”
Adele Erozer agreed.
“I applaud Sen. Bennett for trying to do something, because we need to do something about the homeless problem,” said the executive director for the Community Coalition on Homelessness.