City seeking sales taxes from Orange Bowl concessions
By Paola Iuspa
The City of Miami is again trying to finance a facelift for the Orange Bowl Stadium by asking the state for a rebate on sales taxes from concession and rental fees.
The bill would allow any municipally-owned stadium that has a university as a user in a city facing a financial emergency to use sales taxes for renovations to the venue.
The University of Miami is the Orange Bowl's full-time tenant and, in 1996, the city was declared by the governor to be in a state of financial emergency.
The bill, which on Tuesday was passed by the House fiscal policy committee, was introduced in the Florida House of Representatives by Manuel Prieguez of Miami and in the Senate by Ronald Silver of North Miami.
The proposal was first introduced during last year's session but died in the House from lack of support, said Miami Commissioner Joe Sanchez, the city's legislative liaison.
"I am very confident it is a good bill," said Mr. Sanchez, whose district includes the stadium. "I am willing to compromise in order to have it passed."
After little opposition this week in committee, Rep. Prieguez said he hoped that as early as next week the measure would pass the House appropriations council.
If successful, Mr. Sanchez said, the funds would be used to renovate the 64-year-old stadium.
Eliana Gomez, stadium manager, said the venue was in need of new seats, improved VIP areas and press boxes, and more space for concession booths, among some other remodeling work.
If the sales tax rebate is granted, taxes on event-ticket sales, ticket surcharges, merchandise and concession sales, charges for services and rental of the stadium will go back to the venue, a city document says.
If approved, the stadium will get about $100,000 in 2001-02 and $300,000 the following fiscal year, money that otherwise would go to the state to boost school, police and other Florida budgets.
The proposal may be seen as competing with recently filed legislation that asks for a sales tax rebate on revenue generated by the operation of a new facility for the Florida Marlins baseball team.
The rebate, if approved, would partially repay for the construction of a $385 million venue.
The Marlins bill, introduced in the Senate by J. Alex Villalobos of Miami and in the House by Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, calls for "a county that constructs, renovates, or expands significant new facility for professional sports franchise on a qualifying brownfield" to be entitled to a sales tax rebate.
City of Miami officials two weeks ago chose a 20-acre site north of the Miami River, an area partially declared a brownfield or with its soil contaminated, for the future home of the Marlins.
Mr. Sanchez said there is a chance that the Orange Bowl and Marlins bills could have an effect on each other.
"I am worried," he said. "One bill may hamper the other."
Christina Abram, city director of public facilities, said the Orange Bowl underwent a $21 million renovation project from 1992-98. The city has since spent about $2.5 million in repairs, she said.
She said the stadium makes about $800,000 yearly, which goes to pay the almost $1.3 million annual payment to offset a $13 million debt from previous remodeling.
The University of Miami recently renewed a 10-year contract with the city to use the Orange Bowl at a fee of $1.5 million a year, Ms. Abram said. She said the stadium is home to about 30 major events throughout the year, including two soccer games by the Miami Fusion.
Mr. Sanchez said the Orange Bowl, built for $350,000 in 1937, was trying to carve a new niche with soccer teams, some of them coming from Latin America and the Caribbean in search of a neutral ground.
Commissioner Tom s Regalado said getting the sales tax rebate for the Orange Bowl "would be the best thing that could ever happen to it because the city has no money and seems to have no interest in repairing it."
He said the city has yet to conduct a building structure inspection municipal buildings must get every 40 years to be re-certified the Orange Bowl was due for it last year.
"The re-certification," he said, "guarantees attendees that the structure is safe."