Pro Bowl may come to Orlando, but NFL wants tourist tax money

pro bowl citrus bowl

The NFL is talking to Orlando officials about bringing the Pro Bowl All-Star Game to Orlando’s Florida Citrus Bowl as early as next year, but the deal could hinge on tourism tax money.

And that money is currently being hotly debated because Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and tourism leaders are butting heads about whether now is a really bad (or really good) time to reshuffle how to spend it.

Florida Citrus Sports Chief Executive Officer Steve Hogan has distributed an email to business leaders, provided to FloridaPolitics.com, that warns that there is a narrow window of opportunity to negotiate a deal with the NFL, and it is now.

He seeks some direction of whether local officials should push forward with negotiations with the NFL with or without a commitment from Jacobs on the tourism tax.

The issue of the tourism development tax, “has severely hampered our ability to secure commitments/assurances needed to finalize a three-year plan with the NFL,” Hogan wrote. “The NFL is in the middle of a 30-day window with Hawaii that allowed them enough cover to work with Orlando. Over the next week or two, a final decision will be made, and it is critical for the NFL to understand what the next three years in Orlando would look like financially.”

Hogan was not available Tuesday to comment on the memo.

Jacobs issued this statement: “We’ve been in discussions with leaders from Citrus Sports about the possibility of hosting the NFL Pro Bowl at the Citrus Bowl. Currently, we’re refining the process for evaluating the use TDT funds for such events. I am confident that once that effort is concluded, we will be able to compete to bring this marquee event to our community.”

For most of the past 36 years, the Pro Bowl was held at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, taking only one-year breaks in 2010 in Miami and 2015 in Arizona.

Florida Citrus Sports and the NFL are talking about a three-year contract for 2017-19, according to Hogan’s email. The NFL, the email said, is seeking $2.5 million from various local funds in 2017, and more in the next couple of years. Hogan believes the second and third-year totals are negotiable.

But that $2.5 million, as laid out in the email, includes a $500,000 each year from Visit Orlando, which is funded by the tourist tax, and an additional $1 million each year of tourist tax from Orange County.

The problem: Orange County’s tourism development tax debate is, in some respects, mired down in politics.

The six-cent Orange County bed tax brought in $226 million last year, and is expected to bring in more this year. The formula of how to spend the money was set in a complex deal between the county and the city of Orlando in 2007, and amended a couple of times since. Most of it goes to the Orange County Convention Center and the county visitors bureau, Visit Orlando. Other chunks are reserved for sports, arts and the city’s venues, including the Citrus Bowl.

In the past year, there have been two proposals on how Orange County should consider future changes in the formula used to spend the money.

One would set up a system through a county ordinance, and the other would set up a system through the county’s charter. The county Charter Review Commission is working on a charter amendment now, and it would go before voters this fall.

Jacobs initially preferred the ordinance method, but agreed to allow the charter approach to proceed at the request of tourism leaders, including the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association.

Now that the Charter Review Commission has agreed to a charter amendment, the lodging association changed its position three weeks ago, proposing a new mix for the tourism tax spending that would have included more money for sports and the Citrus Bowl, among other things.

Jacobs responded with two objections: that it was too late to propose changing the spending formula because the county was preparing to ask voters about that; and that she thought the proposal was not financially wise at any rate.

Hogan’s email said he met with Jacobs Monday and found she was “very excited and interested” in pursuing the support we have requested.

“But,” Hogan continued, “the recent charter discussion has put her ability to officially begin to request and secure support on hold. I personally believe this is a ‘when-not-if’ challenge.

“I truly believe the support will be there when the public debate concludes later this summer/year. Either way, we must put the need for TDT funding on the record when the Pro Bowl Opportunity becomes public. We asked the Mayor if that is something she would like to be a part of, if not, we will have to do it, and she and others will have to respond.”

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected]



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