Clock Runs Out On Bill Blocking Local Stadium Deals

Feb 1, 2016

Credit US Air Force via Wikimedia Commons

A plan to block local governments from striking sweetheart deals with sports franchises appears dead.  The measure stalled in a House economic development committee.

Florida has nine professional sports teams across baseball, basketball, football and hockey.  There’s also soccer, minor league teams and sixteen baseball franchises during spring training.  All of those need facilities—stadiums—and local governments sometimes offer favorable agreements to attract teams to their area.  That’s the nice way to say it. 

But it’s not how Rep. Bryan Avila (R-Hialeah) describes the agreements.

“In the past sports franchises and local governments have entered into financial agreements that have been detrimental to tax payers,” Avila says.  “This bill will put an end to that behavior and ensure that those tax dollars are being used appropriately.”

Avila’s measure prohibits franchises from building on public land, and it requires land purchased for a stadium be sold at fair market value.  Committee chair Frank Artiles (R-Miami) explains the issue hits close to home for lawmakers like he and Avila.

“Representative Avila, I do support your bill.  The reason being is because of the issues that we have dealt with in Miami-Dade County where the taxpayers are basically on the hook for the Miami Marlins stadium,” Artiles says.  “I think the final tab is going to be three billion dollars that is going to be paid by taxpayers.”

And Avila says in light of Florida’s business climate those deals shouldn’t be necessary.

“You have less taxes, less regulations—I think that Orlando City and the Beckham Group have proven that you don’t need taxpayer funds in order to set up shop in a community,” he says.

Both are soccer franchises that have raised private funds instead of relying on public support from local governments.  But Avila’s proposal met significant pushback in committee.

“I understand your problem,” Rep. Ray Pilon (R-Sarasota) says, “I also understand the city and county of Sarasota has a very successful spring training renovated stadium that could not have been done without the Baltimore Orioles.”

Pilon says Avila’s measure might address a problem for the Miami area, but it’s not a struggle for the rest of the state.   

St. Cloud Republican Mike La Rosa agrees the measure is too broad, but he’s not talking about geography.

“I represent an area, 65 percent of my district is in Osceola County,” La Rosa says. “I notice in here it says professional rodeo cowboy association, in Osceola county we take our rodeos very serious.”

He draws a distinction between the rodeo and major sports teams.

“You know maybe when we’re talking about national franchises like the Miami Dolphins like the Miami Heat, which I’m big fans of, but I understand that adding tax payer dollars to those type of facilities would be harmful,” La Rosa says.  “But when it comes down to the small details it hurts my district it hurts our rodeos,”

He says he’ll work with Avila on a language to exempt rodeos, but it appears that won’t be necessary.

Avila asked that his bill be temporarily postponed.  That might sound like living to fight another day, but the move means his bill is effectively toast.   It doesn’t have a Senate companion, and Monday’s hearing was the final meeting for the House Economic Development and Tourism Subcommittee.  That leaves Avila’s bill stranded without a path forward.  It could still be tacked onto another measure as an amendment but at this point the prospects are slim.