2014 legislature

House Speaker Will Weatherford: No new stadium ‘checks’ this year

Sun Life Stadium in 2007.
Sun Life Stadium in 2007.
Al Messerschmidt / Getty Images

News Service of Florida

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, indicated Wednesday he's not in favor of the state setting aside money for any professional-sports stadium projects this year, after also opposing a high-profile effort in 2013 to direct tax dollars to improvements at the home of the Miami Dolphins.

Instead, Weatherford expects the House to craft legislation this year that would redefine the process for the owners of the multimillion-dollar facilities to apply for money.

"Our focus right now is on a process that treats everyone equitably and not writing any checks," Weatherford said during an interview with The News Service of Florida in his Capitol office.

That means Daytona International Speedway may have to wait another year --- until Weatherford is out of office --- on its request for help with a major renovation project, and the same could be true for anticipated funding requests for a recently granted Major League Soccer franchise in Orlando and a soccer club proposed for Miami.

Miami Beckham United, which is seeking an expansion approval from the MLS and a stadium location in Miami, has hired prominent lobbyist Brian Ballard. Meanwhile Orlando City Soccer Club has employed lobbyists from GrayRobinson PA.

"If you want to come to the state of Florida, and you want to participate and be a partner with the state of Florida, you have to prove that there is a return on investment," Weatherford said, referring to the process he wants to require. "You have to go through the process with the Department of Economic Opportunity just like everybody else does that wants to create jobs in Florida."

The new process is being drafted by the House Economic Affairs committee.

As a step toward potentially seeking state money, Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, and Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, have filed measures (HB 887 and SB 618) that would require the Department of Economic Opportunity to set aside two facility certifications for Major League Soccer franchises.

Their measures also expand the definition of professional sports franchises to include the soccer league with the National League or the American League of Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, and the National Hockey League.

Weatherford's statement is an indication that a measure (HB 127) co-sponsored by Reps. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, and David Santiago, R-Deltona, to provide up to $2 million a year for 30 years to a "motorsports entertainment complex" with at least 50,000 fixed seats --- the Daytona speedway --- will have difficulty advancing in the House.

A similar proposal (SB 208) by Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, to direct $2 million a year in state sales-tax dollars for improvements at Daytona International Speedway has already been approved by the Senate Finance and Tax Subcommittee and the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee.

Hukill has promoted the work --- new entrances and expanded entertainment concourses, with increased refreshment and concession areas and wider seating --- as a job creator.

The requested money, totaling $60 million over 30 years, would help International Speedway Corp., which is putting up $375 million to $400 million for its "Daytona Rising" project.

Two additional committees, Community Affairs and Rules, are expected to consider the proposal before it could appear on the Senate Floor.

The state currently directs up to $2 million a year in sales-tax dollars to each of eight major league sports facilities: Sun Life Stadium in Miami-Dade County, EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Tropicana Field in Tampa, Tampa Bay Times Forum, BB&T Center in Broward County, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, American Airlines Arena in Miami, and the Amway Center in Orlando.

As of January, 2014, the total payout to the facilities has equaled $267.2 million, according to state Department of Economic Opportunity records.

The Amway Center, home of the NBA's Orlando Magic, was the most recently approved funding deal, in February 2008. The other seven were approved in the 1990s.

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