Taxes, bond money eyed for an arena at private Florida Memorial University
By Risa Polansky
Florida Memorial University and Northwest Miami-Dade need a community arena, county Commissioner Barbara Jordan says, but fellow lawmakers fear the funding sources she's eyeing — tourist tax and general obligation bond dollars — are already stretched.
To back a new multi-purpose event arena for the private university in Opa-locka, Ms. Jordan at a commission committee meeting last week proposed looking for $5 million to $10 million in convention development tax collections, and potentially tourist development taxes and general obligation bond dollars, or other available sources.
She ended up putting the push on hold after her proposal raised red flags for commissioners concerned about other projects dependent on limited bed taxes and bond dollars, namely a revamp of the outdated Miami Beach Convention Center.
Of the 6% "bed" tax on hotel room and other accommodation rentals, half is a 3% convention development tax used to fund tourist-related facilities.
Millions in collections are headed to downtown's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts — potentially more than $140 million over the next two decades.
The tax dollars are also being used to back some bonds for the new Marlins ballpark in Little Havana: about $91.2 million in convention development tax-backed bonds are to cost almost $1.2 billion in debt service by 2047.
The long-term, $2.9 billion general obligation bond initiative is meant to fund hundreds of projects countywide — including $55 million for the planned convention center revamp — but a shrunken tax roll and lower-than-projected debt service millage are squeezing the program and delaying projects.
Meanwhile, planning for a new-and-improved convention center is in full swing.
Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, whose district includes the aging center, fears funding competition from Ms. Jordan's proposed Florida Memorial University arena.
"The convention center has been going through a substantial study in reference to what it needs. All the working partners are at the table, and we need to make sure that's funded correctly," Mr. Barreiro said.
"We know there's a very limited amount of CDT [convention development tax] dollars, and I cannot support something at this point without knowing what we need to do [the convention center revamp] correctly before we take on another project."
Commissioner Javier Souto chimed in with similar concerns that the county's "hands are full right now."
"I have also items that give me some trepidation when I know there are items waiting still in the wings.… You have the people of the Beach with this, you have the issues of the Latin arts center for the young people that has been voted twice by the people of Miami-Dade, and we're still in limbo…. In my view we have to finish these things before we jump into the fight with another project," Mr. Souto said.
Ms. Jordan deferred her item in light of the concerns but said her intent is simply to get the arena project "in the queue."
Part of her proposal involved including a Florida Memorial arena in an amendment to a December measure that lays out priorities for "legally available" convention development taxes, including those freed now that Miami's Omni Community Redevelopment Agency is covering construction debt on the downtown performing arts center.
Under that legislation, the performing arts center could receive between now and 2030 a projected $74.4 million toward operations and an endowment, $28.5 million for maintenance and an operating reserve and $40.5 million for education and outreach programs — on top of an existing $7.6 million annual county subsidy.
The New World Symphony is projected to receive about $28 million over 14 years.
Ms. Jordan said she hoped to add a Florida Memorial arena to the list — and would be happy including the convention center revamp as well.
"To me the convention center should be over and above everything else in the queue because of the nature of what it does," she said. But "just as each of you have projects in your communities, this is something I have in my community where the current gymnasium… you couldn't put a bowling ball on it without it going in a wave, and the opportunity to create a community arena is something that is being pushed by my community and that I'd like to move forward with."
Mr. Souto noted that the university is a private institution.
But, Ms. Jordan said, "It's a private school that has demonstrated public-private partnerships before."
The county and the university jointly developed an arts center on the campus, she said, "and we are using it as a community performing arts center."
A new multi-purpose arena at the university, her proposed legislation says, "would provide significant benefits to the citizens of the County by providing a place for recreational, cultural, and educational activities, as well as serve as a venue for community high school and intercollegiate sports competition."