The Pittsburgh Pirates organization returns to the limelight this week with yet another project to improve the fan experience at McKechnie Field — a modern video board, a standard amenity at sports stadiums across the nation. The Manatee County Tourist Development Council is recommending county commissioners approve spending up to $1 million to help the Pirates buy the board, currently using a veritable antique message board.
This is a fully justifiable expenditure given the value the organization brings to Bradenton and Manatee County. The state, the county and the city have heavy investments in the team’s facilities here. The reason is simple — the annual multimillion dollar economic return on those investments.
Should commissioners approve this on July 26 — which seems inevitable — tourist tax dollars would be spent on the project. Florida Statute 125.0104 requires tourism revenue — also known as the bed tax, short-term rental tax and resort tax — go toward the promotion of tourism, beach renourishment and the “construction, reconstruction, or renovation of a professional sports franchise facility, or the acquisition, construction, reconstruction, or renovation of a retained spring training franchise facility ...”
That revenue cannot be transferred into a government general fund, though that is a common misunderstanding.
Last year alone, the Pirates spring training weeks here pumped an estimated $36 million into the local economy, Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, noted at this week’s Tourist Development Council meeting. He also cited a 37 percent increase in visitation from Pittsburgh year over year.
Tourism tax dollars were also spent on renovations and the expansion of the ballpark, a project that created one of the best spring training facilities in the country when completed in 2013. The project included a 19,000 square foot boardwalk spanning the outfield, creating an unparalleled fan experience, and the addition of 2,000 seats, bringing the total to 8,500. The $10 million cost was shared by Bradenton, which owns McKechnie Field, Manatee County and the Pirates. As part of that arrangement, the team agreed to a sizable increase in spending to promote the Bradenton area in Pittsburgh — to $400,000 annually, advertising that likely contributed to that 37 percent boost in Pittsburgh visits.
Add the Major League Baseball team’s high-Single A club, the Bradenton Marauders, to the economic mix, and the Pirates organization generated a $60 million impact last year, Trevor Gooby, the team’s senior director of Florida operations, told the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance at Wednesday’s luncheon.
Pirate City, the team’s training and rehabilitation facility, also has proven to be a revenue generator. In 2014, the facility yielded $167,551 in sales taxes and an additional $18,453 in resort taxes for Bradenton alone.
The Pirates are responsible for quite a lot of tourist tax revenue.
The team invests in Bradenton in other ways. The organization’s charitable arm contributed $75,000 toward the construction of the Blackstone Park Palmetto Little League Complex and provides financial support to improve youth baseball, softball and recreational facilities.
Financial partnerships between professional sports franchises and governments are common across Florida and indeed the nation. Manatee County and Bradenton enjoy a strong and rewarding relationship with Pittsburgh, which began when the team’s spring training first took to McKechnie Field in 1969. The Pirates organization is a very valuable community member, a major player in Bradenton’s economy and our quality of life. A video board is a small price to pay for once again bolstering this symbiotic relationship.