Saturday, August 10, 2013

A 'slam dunk' for Orlando sports NOT delivered by the Magic

Orange County and Orlando city leaders have curried favor with those who control the purse strings on the county's Tourist Development Tax money. That industry will be funding added improvements to the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center and renovations to the Citrus Bowl.

Oh, you thought that it was only Orlando City Soccer Club approaching politicians with their hats off and hands out asking for public money for their playpens?

That's the only group a large segment of people -- and most in that group aren't soccer fans -- heard much about as Phil Rawlins and the purple-clad supporters of the team laid out a plan to secure most of the funding for a soccer-specific stadium, seen as the main hurdle in securing a Major League Soccer franchise in Orlando.

On Tuesday, Rawlins made a pitch to the Board of County Commissioners at an information session. Then he did the same thing Friday in front of the Tourist Development Council, the board that carries the wallet that will open and provide $94.5 million. The TDC voting unanimously to make the funds available. Go here for a detailed breakdown of the governmental gymnastics from Adam Henckler of The Scoring Third soccer blog.

I understand the hesitation people have about publicly funding another public-private partnership -- especially if you're the one writing the check. Had the soccer club not gotten the support of local government and walked away empty-handed, I would have understood.

The folks in Osceola County are learning this as they try to work with the Washington Nationals to build a new spring training complex in Kissimmee -- all of it on their own dime.

But in the case of Orlando City, the club has asked for $40 million -- $20 each from the city of Orlando, which Mayor Buddy Dyer has already pledged, and from the county. This is the same county that spent over $400 million for the Amway Center to keep a team that was already here, and that was OK with everyone. In the same breath this week, the county handed $12 million over for a $190 million Citrus Bowl project that hasn't even begun yet and $25 million to finish the Performing Arts Center that blew through its budget.

In simple math terms, for 1/10 the cost the area spent to keep the Magic here, it can bring in a team in a brand-new, Major League-level sport and franchise. Ownership is kicking in the rest of the $110 million to fund the stadium and an MLS franchise.

Has anything sports-related in this town ever been as much of a slam-dunk for the community as this?

The tourism industry didn't think so, and they whined until the got a piece of pie on Friday. The TDC will provide additional funds for tourism marketing and $10 million for Convention Center improvements, on top of $187 million already earmarked for that behemoth over the next five years. (Really? How much bigger does that damn thing need to be? It's already the largest in the world!)

In other words, everybody won, although those who don't understand the full impact of these decisions will remain in the dark. Church Street will eventually be home to, from east to west, a new performing arts center, the Amway Center, and better-than-a-dump Citrus Bowl and a soccer stadium. The MLS will be in Orlando, as soon as 2015.

It's not just soccer we're kickin' around, kids.

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