D-Day:The Great Florida Spring Training Debate

Filed under: Florida News,Orlando News |

Ever since the State of Florida started throwing money around on the pretense of encouraging sporting teams to set up base or to stay in Florida, various communities have been thrown into strife. Instead of encouraging teams to stay in Florida, all that has happened is that one community has competed against another for the luxury of playing host to a National League Baseball team. Is it really that much of a cherry?

Today, in Kissimmee, Florida, we find out. The Washington Nationals have put forward a proposal that, if approved, will see them switch from Viera in Brevard County to a brand new purpose built stadium in Osceola County, Florida.

This situation has largely come about because of Senate Bill 406 that passed in May of this year along with the state budget that spells out that seven Florida spring-training cities are eligible for $55,555 a month in state money for 30 years. That effectively translates to about $20 million and it is the eagerness to capture that money that is apparently turning some heads.

The Nationals bid is the latest example of what happens when a major league franchise sees an opportunity. Citing the location as a problem, they are now trying to break their commitment to Brevard county while at the same time pledging to become good citizens in Osceola County. Truth be known, what they’re really doing is looking out for number one and without any commitment to put any real skin in the game, they are hoping that Osceola County Commissioners will approve a deal that will cost the county some $221 million over the next 30 years.

Making the situation even worse is the fact that the majority of financing for the deal will come from the 1st, 2nd and 3rd pennies of the  tourist development tax (TDT) that the county relies on to promote itself as a desirable tourist destination next door to Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando. The TDT was something the County Commission seemed to value highly before this deal as just over a year ago, 6th August 2012,  they passed a policy 5-0 to protect those pennies and to only allocate them for the sales, marketing and promotional expenses for destination marketing through their Experience Kissimmee Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In fact, just a month ago, on 15th July, the County Commission rejected the initial Nationals deal 3-2 but here we are today revisiting the issue after the Nationals sweetened the deal a little by promising to increase ticket prices to attend the game by $3 (so much for being good citizens) and giving that money back to the county in what some can only describe as a tax. They also committed to paying $18 million more in rent over 30 years with most of that deal being back weighted.

The real issue here though isn’t about whether Osceola County wants a Spring training team, it’s really about whether it can afford to put its eggs in one basket. The Houston Astros, who are due to depart Osceola County in 2016, only ever brought 55,000 per year to the county over their 16 games while the Nationals lay claim to being able to achieve 85,000. Hardly significant numbers and made even worse when one of the County Commissioners Michael Harford admitted in a meeting with us that 30% are local people who attend.

So, here we are at D-day. And this really is a war. Very few in the tourism industry support this bid and some actually see it as the rape of their CVB’s marketing money for the next 30 years. They are so incensed that they have even set up a petition at www.Change.org.  We’re in for an interesting few hours… the County Commission meets at 5.30pm this evening. We’ll keep you informed how the vote goes.

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