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Nancy Smith

Major League Soccer Scores in Committee, But It's Early

February 18, 2013 - 6:00pm

A bill that could help two Florida cities attract Major League Soccer took home a clean-sheet victory in its first appearance before a Senate committee a day after Orlandos efforts to field a team moved up, thanks to the addition of a Brazilian financial backer.

The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee on Tuesday handed an 11-0 vote in support of Senate Bill 358, which would allow teams seeking to build stadiums in Jacksonville and Orlando to be eligible for about $2 million a year for 30 years in local sales tax assistance.

The bills next stop is the Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax.

The House version, House Bill 219, sits before the Finance and Tax Subcommittee, Economic Development and Tourism Subcommittee, and the Appropriations Committee.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said the bill would require the local government and team to demonstrate that the complex would generate an equal amount in sales tax to the local community to offset the money directed toward construction.

The result of this is that the money generated from the operation of the facility actually pays for the tax that would be used to construct the facility, Simmons said. Thats the beauty of this arrangement.

The state contract would require the team to attract 300,000 paying fans a year to reach the $2 million in sales tax with the promise to play in the complex for at least 10 years.

Simmons noted that the bid from Orlando would be for an 18,000-seat, $105 million stadium that could draw up to 700,000 a year, not including other events that are hosted by the city or county holding the rights to the stadium.

The Orlando City Lions announced Monday that Brazilian businessman Flio Augusto da Silva had joined their ownership group, increasing the clubs share of any public/private-funded, multipurpose soccer stadium in downtown Orlando and future acquisition of an MLS franchise.

Committee Chair Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said the terms should require the team to remain at the stadium as long as the bonding is in place, which could be 20 to 30 years.

This is the year where were trying to look at incentives in a nice factual, reasonable way, where we promote sports, promote a lot of things, without giving away the store, Detert said.

She also cautioned that the Legislature needs to be careful about how any incentive package is set up.

She recalled that efforts to attract Major League Baseball teams from Arizona to Florida for spring training mostly resulted in teams already playing in the Sunshine State simply using the money to relocate across the state.

Meanwhile, the Legislature is also fielding a request by the Miami Dolphins to allow Miami-Dade County to direct bed tax money to cover a large chunk of $400 million in planned renovations to Sun Lite Stadium.

Orlando city lobbyist Kathy Russell said the city intends to also use the stadium to host high school football, rugby, lacrosse and open air concerts.

We will keep the facility in use, Russell said.

Any team would have to compete with existing pro sports in Florida, of which there are nine major league professional teams, 33 minor league franchises, and 15 Major League Baseball spring training camps.

While Orlando -- the local club is loaned reserves from the MLS's Sporting Kansas City -- has been pushing hard to be recognized as an MLS franchise the past two years, Floridas history with the league hasnt been stellar.

The Tampa Bay Mutiny, one of MLSs original teams in 1996 closed in 2001 due to declining attendance and failure to find a local owner.

The Miami Fusion FC kicked off two years after the league opened, playing at Fort Lauderdales Lockhart Stadium, only to be shut down in 2001 as the league contracted.

The league, however, has since upped its national TV profile and currently fields 19 teams, split into Eastern and Western conferences, with 14 teams playing in soccer-specific stadiums.

Reach Jim Turner at or at (772) 215-9889.

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