By Richard Bilbao 

As collegiate sports facilities like Camping World Stadium and the University of Central Florida athletics seek to grow and improve, it’s likely Orange County’s lucrative tourist development tax will be a sought-after funding source — something that already has happened this year.

However, there are very strict rules that can limit how the 6-cent hotel tax funds can be tapped into even for facilities like the two sports-centric venues. For example, the tax’s sixth cent by law only can be used in a 50/50 split to pay off the city of Orlando’s debt on the Amway Center (home venue of the NBA’s Orlando Magic) and the other half toward tourism promotion (primarily Visit Orlando).

But a simple change in verbiage of that sixth cent’s usage could solve some problems facing many entities seeking funding, said Angel de la Portilla, president of Orlando-based Central Florida Strategies, whose clients include private sector developers and local governments.

De la Portilla, who spoke at an Orlando Business Journal-hosted panel discussion on Nov. 1 about the hotel tax, said local decision makers should consider seeking Florida legislative support to tweak the uses of that sixth cent.

“We see the broader community demands of the TDT and that [Orange County] commissioners want to expand TDT projects into the community. We might want to have a discussion with the Legislature about expanding the use of the sixth cent to allow the city to use some of those funds to fund the stadium. Right now, it’s only allowed for professional sports, but if you allow it for college and professional sports, the city could have a dedicated fund for its sports venues.”

He said support could be found within the Florida Legislature as many decision makers may have close ties to other big Florida universities that also are considering major stadium renovations. For example, the University of Florida plans to invest $400 million into The Swamp and Florida State University plans to infuse $265 million into Doak Campbell Stadium.

“We should lead this conversation … and give the city the flexibility. There will be future needs of the stadium … they will need the roof, parking and infrastructure. This is part of a longer discussion,” de la Portilla said.

Projects that could benefit from such a move would be Camping World Stadium and UCF’s plan to invest millions of dollars into a new athletics village.

Florida Citrus Sports, the primary tenant of Camping World Stadium, is seeking $400 million to rebuild the upper terrace and build a new field house. Another $400 million would be needed to build a rooftop canopy. UCF’s project, which already was awarded monies to improve its football stadium, earlier this year was seeking $176 million for various athletic facility improvements as part of its transition into the Big 12 Conference.

Florida Citrus Sports CEO Steve Hogan said the organization will continue to find avenues to fund the improvement needed for the historical stadium.

“Florida Citrus Sports will continue collaborating with local leadership to explore funding mechanisms for Camping World Stadium. We must complete the vision for this unique community asset to continue the return on investment that it drives for Orange County and the Central Florida region,” he told OBJ. Hogan also attended OBJ‘s TDT panel discussion on Nov. 1.

A spokeswoman with Orange County declined to comment on speculation, and Robert Agrusa, president and CEO of the Central Florida Hotels & Lodging Association which represents many hoteliers that pay the tourist development tax, declined to comment stating the group has not had a chance to study such an approach.

Also, representatives with the city of Orlando and UCF did not respond prior to press time.

The tourist development tax is levied on the sale of hotel, motel and short-term rentals and generates millions of dollars for Orange County each month. Those funds are used to pay for expansions and operations of the Orange County Convention Center and Visit Orlando. The money also is tapped for incentives to lure big events and pay for upgrades to other regional tourism-generating venues such as Camping World Stadium, the Amway Center and the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

Orange County leaders are set to hear a presentation from Visit Orlando on Nov. 14 that may lead to more discussion on the tourist development tax and potential uses.

Source: Orlando Business Journal

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