Federal tax legislation could cost Sarasota County an extra $100,000 on debt service for bonds to help fund Atlanta Braves’ Spring Training complex

Congress considering tax on financing for athletic stadiums

An architectural rendering shows the Atlanta Braves complex planned for the West Villages. Image courtesy Chappell Roberts

The final version of Congress’ federal tax overhaul could cost Sarasota County $100,000 more in debt service on bonds to help pay for the Atlanta Braves Spring Training complex in North Port.

That was the news County Administrator Tom Harmer delivered to the County Commission on Nov. 14.

One of the many measures under consideration for the tax bill, on the U.S. House side, Harmer said, states that financing for athletic stadiums will be taxable. Based on information county staff had received, Harmer continued, the effectiveness of that provision in the bill could be backdated to early November.

If the final version of the tax bill is approved with that measure, he added, staff in the county’s Office of Financial Management believes the extra expense to the county would be slightly more than $100,000 per year. However, he pointed out, staff initially estimated the annual debt service on the bonds to be approximately $1.3 million. Based on staff assessments of the potential tax change, Harmer said, that would not affect the estimate.

The bonds the county is issuing will provide $21,262,000, according to documents provided to the commission late this summer.

Harmer also pointed out, as commissioners have on multiple occasions, that the bonds will be paid back out of Tourist Development Tax revenue that the county collects each year. That money comes from the 5% “bed tax” on rental of accommodations for visitors, including those provided through the internet-based service Airbnb.

As a precaution — with issuance of the bond series planned by the end of November — Harmer requested the board approve a supplemental resolution for the bonding, in case the tax measure wins congressional approval.

Commissioner Michael Moran made the motion to authorize Chair Paul Caragiulo to sign that supplemental resolution, if needed. Commissioner Charles Hines seconded the motion, and it passed unanimously.

A chart shows the changes in Tourist Development Tax penny allocations as they affect the Braves’ stadium funding. ‘CapX’ refers to county capital expenditures for both the Braves’ and Baltimore Orioles’ complexes. The Orioles conduct Spring Training in Sarasota. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Braves’ complex, which will be built in the West Villages community, is expected to be completed in time for the team to begin its Spring Training games there in 2019. The total expense of the facilities has been estimated at $100 million, Harmer reported to the County Commission on Sept. 13. The team, the City of North Port and the West Villages also have committed funds to the project, and the state approved a $20-million grant for it out of the state’s Spring Training Retention Fund.

As part of its unanimous approval of its Nov. 28 Consent Agenda of routine business items, the County Commission formally approved an amendment to its 2018 fiscal year budget to appropriate the $21.3 million for the Spring Training complex. It also adopted a resolution that amended its Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for the fiscal years of 2018 through 2022, so staff formally could add the facility to that program list.

The Braves are overseeing the design and construction of the complex, a Nov. 28 staff memo noted. Additionally, an agreement involving an interim construction manager was being negotiated between the West Villages Improvement District and Tandem Construction, the memo said, “to start construction as soon as possible.”

The stadium design calls for 6,200 permanent seats, with room for 1,000 more on a berm, the CIP document pointed out. The complex will include six full practice fields, two half fields for practice, a state-of-the-art clubhouse that will be about 55,000 square feet, and “additional amenities such as batting cages, covered observation tower, pitching mounds, parking facilities, and public plaza,” the CIP amendment notes.