Florida sports stadium bill prompts MLB spring training concerns

15 MLB teams hold spring training in Florida

Florida state lawmakers are considering a bill that would limit use of tourism tax revenue to pay for stadium repairs and upgrades, raising concerns among some officials about the potential impact to the state’s status as home to Major League Baseball’s spring training.

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Dubbed HB 1369, the legislation proposed by Republican state Rep. Cary Pigman would block counties from using revenue from tourism-development taxes toward sports facilities, require leases for facilities on public land to be set at fair market value and require sports teams to repay debt incurred by local governments that funded stadium upgrades. The Florida House Ways & Means Committee voted Tuesday to advance the bill.

“If these franchises and the stadiums they build are as lucrative as is explained, there will be plenty of private investors willing to participate in their financing,” Pigman said, according to the News Service of Florida.

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Public funding is a common incentive used by state and local governments to lure and retain pro sports teams. The practice has drawn mounting scrutiny in recent years, with some questions whether sports stadiums provide the promised benefits to local economies.

Half of MLB’s 30 teams hold spring training in Florida, and play exhibition games in the Grapefruit League. The other 15 teams play in Arizona’s Cactus League.

Last year’s Grapefruit League games drew more than 1.4 million attendees. A 2018 state-commissioned impact study found that spring training provided a $687.1 million annual benefit to the state of Florida, according to the Florida Sports Foundation.

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While the committee panel voted 15-1 to advance the bill, multiple lawmakers asked for a further review of the potential impact to spring training facilities.

“Fort Myers has not one but two spring training facilities – the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins," said state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Meyers, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. “I want to make certain and feel comfortable that the impact to our communities will not be damaged by moving forward by anything in this bill."

There is no companion bill in the state Senate, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. The bill has yet to be introduced to the full House for a vote.

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