Change in Tourist Development Tax revenue allocations approved to help fund Atlanta Braves stadium in the West Villages near North Port

Funding shifts will enable county to pay debt service on a bond and contribute to a maintenance and repairs fund for the new complex

A rendering shows the proposed layout of the Atlanta Braves’ South County facilities, including the public plaza (bottom left) and the overflow parking/multi-use fields (right). Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Sarasota County Commission this week notched another milestone on the path to building an Atlanta Braves stadium in the West Villages community near North Port.

With a unanimous vote on May 9, the board voted to reallocate portions of its Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue to enable it to pay debt service on a $21.2-million bond for construction of the project, and to build up a capital maintenance and repairs (CapX) fund for the complex. The goal is for the team to begin holding Spring Training games at the new facility in 2019, staff has reported to the commission.

The change will go into effect at the beginning of the 2018 fiscal year, which will begin Oct. 1. The county’s Tourist Development Council unanimously endorsed the change during its February meeting.

Only one speaker addressed the County Commission during the May 9 public hearing. James Ray of the Sarasota Libertarian Party called the Braves “a great team,” but he pointed out, “They’re worth more than a billion dollars.” One player has an annual salary that exceeds $20 million, Ray added; many team members earn more than $10 million per year.

James Ray. News Leader photo

“We don’t think the Sarasota taxpayers should have to be paying welfare to billionaires,” Ray told the commissioners. “We think that these people can afford their own stadium.”

However, Commissioner Charles Hines explained that the board will not be increasing property taxes for the project. The money is coming from the county’s “bed tax” revenue, Hines added. Instead of home and business owners paying for the stadium, tourists essentially will be covering the county’s share of the expense.

Much of the money for the new facilities is coming from the private sector, Hines pointed out, referring to the West Villages’ commitment. “I hope the public sees [this] as different. I think this is a really unique structure that’s been set up here.”

On Feb. 28, Jeff Maultsby, the county’s director of business and economic development, explained to the commissioners that the estimated cost of the stadium and associated facilities — including multi-purpose fields that would be accessible for public use — has been estimated at $75.4 million.

Mattamy, the Canadian-based developer of the West Villages, would contribute up to 80 acres for the project, with a value of $8 million, he continued, and it would provide annual payments of $300,000 for 30 years to offset the stadium debt. The West Villages Improvement District, he said, would construct an access road and utilities valued at $7 million; take care of the design and construction of the facilities; and apply for $20 million from the state’s Spring Training Retention Fund, which would be paid at the rate of $1 million per year if the grant were secured.

A May 9 staff memo provided to the commission explained that an annual allocation of about $1.5 million would be needed to cover the debt service on the net bond proceeds plus the CapX contribution. Staff proposed a reallocation of revenue from the five pennies of the TDT to generate the necessary funds. The resulting changes will result in a 2% decrease in revenue used to promote the county to visitors and increase the funds for the sports stadium allocation by 6%, Maultsby explained to the board.

Additionally, the 4% of TDT funding designated for capital projects and events will end for the time being, Maultsby said. That change will enable the county to build up a reserve equal to the amount it would need for one year to meet its financial obligations to both the new stadium and Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. The county would be able to draw from that fund, he said, “in the event of a catastrophic downturn in Tourist Development Tax revenue.” (See the related story in this issue.)

A chart shows the changes in Tourist Development Tax penny allocations. Image courtesy Sarasota County

After that reserve has been fully funded, Maultsby indicated, TDT revenue once again would flow to the Capital Projects/Events “pot.”

He showed the board a chart outlining the changes in TDT allocations. The Sports Stadium total would grow from $2,043,870 this year to $3,270,192 in FY18, and the Promotion fund would decrease from $6,540,384 this year to $6,131,610.

The allocations for beach maintenance and beach renourishment would remain the same, Maultsby noted.

The debt service the county pays for Ed Smith Stadium — where the Baltimore Orioles conduct Spring Training — is $1,161,974 a year. For the Braves, the estimate is $1,340,961 per year, according to figures Maultsby showed the board.

The county’s CapX contribution for the Braves’ stadium will be $125,000 in the first year, Maultsby’s chart said, while the county will be paying $150,000 per year for the next seven years for Ed Smith Stadium.

A chart shows funding for this year and funding expected in the 2018 fiscal year for allocations from Tourist Development Tax pennies. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The county and the Braves each would contribute $5,625,000 per year over 30 years to the CapX fund for the new facilities, Maultsby added. That figure is identical to the county’s and Orioles’ payments into the CapX fund for Ed Smith Stadium, he pointed out. Therefore, over the next three decades, the total amount of money available for capital maintenance and repairs at each Spring Training complex will add up to $11,250,000, Maultsby added.

Just before the board’s vote, County Administrator Tom Harmer said he wanted to put one additional comment into the record. Ray of the Libertarian Party had asked whether county staff had relied on the work of a purported financial analyst to estimate the economic impact of the new Braves stadium. The Toronto Blue Jays reportedly used the work of a person named Mark Bonn, Ray told the board, to justify their proposal for public financing of renovations to their Spring Training complex in Dunedin. However, Ray said, Bonn “isn’t even an economist.”

“The county has not engaged that individual,” Harmer pointed out.

“Thank you for that,” Chair Paul Caragiulo replied.