Sarasota County Commission to Vote on New Stadium project by Mitch E. Perry

09/11/06

On Wednesday, Sarasota County Commissioners are scheduled to vote on raising the county’s bed tax from 3 to 4 percent. Half of that new tax would then go towards building a new spring training home and practice fields for the Cincinnati Reds baseball team – the other half – would go to the Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau.

But originally, the visitors Bureau had opposed splitting the money with the Reds (roll tape#1 o.q.�.obviously�) Virginia Haley is the Executive Director with the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau (roll tape#2 o.q.�bed tax�)

That was back in August – when members of the Sarasota convention and visitors bureau were unhappy that marketing money that they say they desperately need – would be going directly towards the building of a professional ballpark.

But threats of the Reds possibly leaving Sarasota as their spring training home were spread – and the Reds come up with a marketing program that would be aimed at people in Ohio – the home of the Reds …Again, Virginia Haley (roll tape#3 o.q.�very significant�)

The overall project’s costs are estimated around $54 million dollars. The new stadium would be built on County line across the street from the current Ed Smith facility. The deal also includes the county purchasing land to built more youth sports fields. The Sarasota City Commission has already approved roughly $9 million dollars.

Proponents of the deal say it will bring in money to the area – roughly around $37 million dollars.

An economic study done on the impact of spring training in Florida was done by the Florida Sports Foundation back in 2000, and updated in 2004. Pat Calhoon is the Sports facilities Manager for the City of Sarasota. He began his study by counting the number of paid tickets to Ed Smith in 2005, 90,000…He assumed that 60 percent of those attendees were from outside visitors.

Then Calhoun estimated that those visitors spent on average $63 dollars a day – and stayed an average of 10 days (roll tape#4 o.q.�37 million dollars�)

That $37 million dollar amount impressed Sarasota City Commissioner Mary Anne Servian, who said that she was prepared last month to vote against the stadium.

The Reds themselves will invest $10 million dollars. Exact details of where the rest of the money will come from to reach the $54 million figure are expected to be discussed at the County Commission on Wednesday.

Phil Porter is a professor of economics and director of economic policy analysis at the University of South Florida. He’s a skeptic of such economic forecasts (roll tape#5 o.q.�6 million dollars a year�)

This tax theoretically would not impact the residents of Sarasota, since it is being charged to those who rent hotel rooms in the area. But USF economics professor Phillip Porter says that’s a bogus argument (roll tape#6 o.q.�every hotel room�)

Virginia Haley from the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau acknowledges that many of her members weren’t exactly thrilled at first to be raising the bed tax (roll tape#7 o.q.�process�) and Haley says the new tax, at 4%, is still below Pinellas County, which has a 5% bed tax.

But what if the County Commission rejects the deal? Will the Reds do what other professional franchises have done in the past – threaten to take their ball and go home, or in this case, to Arizona, where many West Coast teams train during the Spring?

AgainSarasota Sports Facility Manager Pat Calhoon (roll tape#8 o.q.to move so quickly�)

The Sarasota County Commission will vote on this issue on Wednesday.

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