The Florida House of Representatives has left the pitch early, leaving Orlando City well short of its expected $115 million in funding to complete the club's downtown soccer specific stadium -- already under construction in the Parramore district.
With three days remaining in this year's legislative session, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli adjourned the House's business today. The securing of $30 million in stadium funding for Orlando City SC is but one piece of the large amount of business that goes unresolved with this development.
"The Senate continues to assert their demand that we agree to expand Medicaid," said Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican. "I don't call that negotiating where I come from."
The move means lawmakers leave town without passing the one bill they are constitutionally required to pass - a balanced budget. Also, nearly every facet of Florida's budget - including school and university spending, funding for conservation projects, Gov. Rick Scott's top priority of tax cuts and local projects like the UCF downtown campus and soccer stadium funding - faces an uncertain future.
The stadium bill becomes just one of the casualties of a fierce Medicaid battle between the House and Senate.
Orlando City SC and the City of Orlando have released this joint statement:
"We are clearly disappointed by the House's decision to end session early in Tallahassee before tackling a host of important issues. We (Orlando City SC and the City of Orlando) are working closely to evaluate next steps including potentially going back to Tallahassee during the special legislative session in June. There is no further update on construction timing, since we are currently evaluating all options. Once the right course of action has been selected, we will evaluate any potentially impact on construction and provide an update at that time."
Leaving politics aside, which is this site's policy, one doesn't have to think hard or be affiliated with any particular party to see how leaving a paid job before it's finished reeks of childish and petulant behavior. To their credit, some representatives see that.
From the linked above Orlando Sentinel article:
"If I'm in the Senate and watching the House and the House just up and quits, that's like a child in a sandbox taking their toys away," said House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach.
Just yesterday, the club released a lengthy, passionate post on its website by Orlando City Founder and President Phil Rawlins, outlining the facts of the bill's importance as he sees them. Among the things Rawlins pointed out: the club is fronting $40 million for a stadium that the city of Orlando will own and operate, and that OCSC is responsible for any construction cost overruns.
"The Bill supporting the stadium financing was approved by both the Florida House and the Senate last year, and the monies have already been set aside in the 2014 budget. The Finance Committee should have "rubber-stamped" that decision and appropriated the funds in February of this year. For purely political reason they shirked their responsibility (even though the monies are already set aside for this purpose) and sent the decision back to the House and Senate. The soccer stadium "funding" has become a political football for Tallahassee to fight over!"
Just a week ago, the club reached out to season ticket members and asked them to contact their legislator to request their support for the bill, offering a sample letter they could attach to their correspondence:
As a local resident, it is important to me that you support the MLS Stadium funding bill in Tallahassee. We know that state incentives are not always popular, but I believe in what this project means for our community, both economically and culturally. Please be our leader on this significant, historic initiative for our region. We have already seen the positive economic benefits generated by the team, and we want to keep this momentum going for our community! Perhaps most importantly though, Orlando City is a community partner that provides soccer clinics and camps for our kids. Our community and our kids deserve to have these opportunities and experiences. The new stadium will bring added economic activity and generate even more revenue for our district, and enhance an already strong community partnership.
Any outcry by City fans has apparently fallen on deaf ears.
What does this mean for the new stadium and Orlando City?
The stadium can still likely be built for $85 million, but what was already a mostly bare bones construction will be forced to leave out many of the features. The question is, what will be left out? Could it be the roof meant to shield fans from rain and sun, and which is designed to amplify crowd noise to make Orlando a tougher place for opponents?
"The $85 million stadium was never what anybody wanted," (Orlando Mayor Buddy) Dyer said. "The $30 million [in sales-tax-rebate funding] was not bonus money ... it's integral to the stadium."
Club spokesman Lenny Santiago was quoted in the story linked in the previous column as saying OCSC would need to figure out its next steps if the funding fell through:
"That would be something we'd have to look at depending on the outcome here in the next week or so," Santiago said. "We'd have to regroup and evaluate in terms of what would be the next steps."
The Orlando City Council agrees ($).
Added Commissioner Robert Stuart: "I think anybody in their right mind would say, 'Well, if the state's approved the law to allow the $30 million, wouldn't we design a building that was for the $115 million?'"
Only one set of plans exists, he said, and it's for the higher amount.
Not all are convinced the funding is critical, however.
We'd certainly never say that funding for a sports facility should be prioritized over an important health care debate in the state legislature. But what is clear is that Rawlins was correct when he said it never should have come to this. The funding was approved and should have been a simple formality by the Finance Committee in February.
Now we're left to wonder what will be left out when the stadium is built and whether or not it will still be completed in time for the 2016 season.
Austin David and Kyle Foley contributed to this report.