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Orlando Sentinel: Sports-incentive program a win-win: My Word

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Much attention has been given recently to the idea of the state providing tax incentives to sports franchises in order to foster positive economic growth and whether it is a smart investment for taxpayers.

“It includes audits and claw-back provisions that require teams to remit money if they do not hit or exceed stated goals. ” The only clawing going on will be legislators clawing payoff money into their pockets. Tax money is not intended to be spent on sports venues.

Florida has positioned itself as a haven for all types of sports fans. The state boasts world-famous racing facilities; football, baseball, basketball and hockey venues; top-notch golf courses; and other activities. All of these produce a good portion of the tax revenue government relies upon to conduct itself. The franchises and facilities provide employment income, promote growth in the surrounding neighborhoods, benefit hospitality businesses, and shine a national and even global light on Florida.

When these facilities break down, some of this allure and positive economic benefit can crumble. Florida has been burned by baseball teams moving to Arizona for spring training, which, starting in the next few weeks, will draw millions of fans. Florida officials have attempted to remain competitive by providing incentives to these franchises.

In Central Florida, Daytona International Speedway brings in visitors from out of state. Its Rolex 24 event last month attracted visitors from 21 countries. Sixty percent of the attendees at the Daytona 500 are from outside the United States, and fans stay an average of five days — putting heads in beds not only in Volusia County, but even as far away as Orlando or Jacksonville. Out-of-state visitors are key to generating positive income for the state, but sports venues are also a deep part of a local community, which thrives by having these franchises ingrained.

The new Sports Development Program is unlike any past effort by Florida lawmakers to incentivize sports teams. It includes audits and claw-back provisions that require teams to remit money if they do not hit or exceed stated goals. It also requires at least half the project to be privately funded, a review by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, and sign-off by the Legislature.

Lawmakers have gotten it right this time by writing into law protections for the taxpayer. Sports franchises are able to heavily invest in updated or new stadiums to attract new fans, new events and new shows, while Florida residents benefit with new jobs, new income and nearby businesses growing and thriving as a result.

It’s a win-win that Floridians should embrace and leaders should continue supporting to keep Florida competitive on a national stage.

Blaine Staed Lansberry is chairman of the Halifax Area Advertising Authority in Daytona Beach.

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