Orange County leaders this week will publicly discuss proposals to spend more than $60 million on tourism marketing and sports and arts venues — proposals until now largely hashed out behind closed doors.
The projects all depend on tourist taxes that have rebounded since plummeting amid the Great Recession. In line for cash: a proposed new soccer stadium; upgrades to the Florida Citrus Bowl stadium; the nearly $500 million performing-arts center; and more advertising for the tourism and hotel industries.
Orange County commissioners are scheduled to review the package Tuesday, and a tourism advisory board will do likewise Friday. No final vote is expected, but the discussions could signal if official opposition exists for any part of the plan.
Here is a rundown of what’s at stake in the latest push to tap tourist-tax revenues, which topped $175 million this past fiscal year.
Owners of Orlando City Soccer Club will make a pitch to Orange commissioners for $20 million in tourist taxes. It’s a vital part of the funding plan for a new stadium, and the team has not discussed any sort of backup plan if it doesn’t get the money.
The minor-league team is vying for the stadium as part of its quest for a Major League Soccer franchise. MLS Commissioner Don Garber said last week the league will add four new teams by 2020; Orlando is thought to be a front-runner.
“MLS is waiting for us to say we have a funding plan for a stadium, and then they will give us a franchise,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said. “It’s as simple as that.”
The stadium’s first phase would cost $85 million. State legislators rejected a proposal earlier this year to funnel $30 million in sales taxes to the project. If they change their minds during their spring session next year, the stadium’s final price tag could climb to $110 million.
Renovation of the Citrus Bowl, currently pegged at $191 million, is the only one of the community venues approved in 2007 that has not gotten underway.
Work is supposed to begin in January, but as the design is being made final, sports boosters are now asking county leaders for a bigger budget. Florida Citrus Sports has told county officials that an additional $12 million in tourist taxes, plus $4 million in private contributions FCS would raise itself, would add features that would make it easier to attract other events to the aging stadium.
The venue now hosts football’s Capital One Bowl; the Russell Athletic Bowl; the Florida Classic between Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman; and the MEAC/SWAC Challenge — as well as the popular Monster Jam motor-sports event.
Dyer said if county commissioners can be convinced to put an additional $12 million toward the project, the stadium can be built in a way that would allow the addition — when necessary — of more luxury suites and other features needed to host big events, particularly a college-football national championship.
Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts has a crucial opportunity to get its second phase on track after the recession blew it off financial course.
Mayor Teresa Jacobs has pledged $25 million to help get it done, but when it’s discussed this week, there could be some friction over where that money comes from.
Jacobs says the county should tap its tourist-tax reserves for the $25 million. But some hotel and theme-park leaders — who jealously guard those reserves — have suggested the city should find another creative way to finance it and let it be paid back with future tourist-tax collections.
Hotelier Harris Rosen wrote commissioners last week to urge them to “maintain these surplus TDT funds in reserves” for added convention-center improvements and for more tourism marketing.
With arts and sports boosters making a grab for more cash, tourism leaders and hoteliers are looking for additional public funds as well.
The Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association is lobbying to lock in funding for $187 million in upgrades to the Orange County Convention Center, a plan backed by Jacobs.
There also is talk of more money for Visit Orlando, the public-private group that markets the area to vacationers and conventioneers. The group already is expected to receive $36.2 million in public funds this fiscal year. But there may be support on the County Commission for committing more for marketing, particularly a campaign that targets Brazil and other South American countries, and another that would work to bring sporting events.
It’s not clear how much those groups are seeking, but Jacobs wants $10 million during the next five years.
Buddy Dyer’s legacy
For Orlando, Mayor Buddy Dyer’s yearslong quest for sports and arts venues is at stake. Funding for the Amway Center, Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and Citrus Bowl upgrades was approved six years ago, but only the Amway Center has been completed. The first phase of the arts center is under construction, and renovation of the Citrus Bowl begins in January.
Dyer wants to see those venues completed, and he wants to bring another professional-sports franchise to Orlando with MLS.
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