Teresa Jacobs urges Orange County tourist board to back Pro Bowl, consider pushing for tax ordinance
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs.

Teresa Jacobs

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs has sent messages on two controversial fronts involving the county’s lucrative tourist tax, asking the Tourist Development Council to put up money to attract the NFL Pro Bowl and to think about pushing for an ordinance to deal with future tourist tax issues.

The latter request — Jacobs actually only softly suggested it — could pave the way to end a gridlock between the mayor and Central Florida’s tourism industry leaders over proposed changes in how the tourist tax is spent longterm.

But the Pro Bowl is a more immediate concern, because Florida Citrus Sports, the region’s sports promotion organization, is negotiating with the NFL to lure the annual all-star game away from Hawaii to the Orlando stadium now known as Camping World Stadium for three years, starting next January. Florida Citrus Sports has indicated it has a narrow window for getting a deal and wants to offer the NFL at least $1 million a year of tourist tax money from Orange County.

Jacobs appeared to back that request in a letter she sent Thursday to members of the Tourist Development Council, instructing that panel to put the Pro Bowl money on the agenda of their May 13 meeting.

“Because time is of the essence in the NFL negotiations, I am asking that members consider approving a motion recommending $1,000,000 per year for three years in Tourist Development Tax funding for bid fees for the NFL Pro Bowl,” she write in the letter, which also went to Orange County commissioners and Comptroller Martha Haynie. “IF the funding request should increase for the 2018 and 2019 games, a proposal will be brought back to the TDC at the appropriate time.”

As for the longer-term issue of how to deal with future tourist tax money requests, Jacobs appeared to signal a way out of the stalemate. Everyone involved in dealing with revenue from the county’s 6 percent bed tax, which has grown to more than $225 million a year with the recent boom in tourism, has wanted a concrete system of hearings, review and decision making.

Jacobs wanted to set up a protocol through county ordinance. The tourism industry, led by the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association, sought an amendment to the county charter instead. Jacobs relented and the Orange County Charter Commission has preliminarily approved a charter amendment that would go before voters next November.

But in April the tourism industry announced it had changed its mind, in part because it had a bold new plan for divvying up the tax money that would allow a couple of big, stalled projects to go forward, notably the next phase of construction of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer endorsed the plan. But Jacobs did not like the new plan for various reasons — mainly because she thought it was not fiscally prudent — and generally rejected the proposal because she said the charter amendment process was rolling, and those sorts of proposals were going to have to wait until the voters could consider the amendment.

By suggesting that the Tourist Development Council consider pushing for an ordinance, which Jacobs had wanted all along, she appears to be saying she is open to the charter process being preempted.

“As we have previously discussed, as an alternative to a county charter provision, TDC members may wish to consider approving a motion recommending that the Board of County Commissioners enact an ordinance implementing a formal TDT application and evaluation process in lieu of the proposed charter amendment,” she wrote.

Next week will be big for the issue. On Tuesday the Orange County Board of County Commissioners will hold a work session to discuss the issues. On May 13, the Tourist Development Council meets, and Jacobs said her staff will be there to brief the council on the possibility of a county ordinance, while Florida Citrus Sports will take the lead on the Pro Bowl deal.

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].


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Sign up for Sunburn