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Oct 18, 2013

Orlando to vote on stadium approval

Orlando’s bid to fund a soccer specific stadium, and by extension enable Orlando City soccer club to become MLS’s latest expansion team, is in danger of falling just short.

The city council and the tourist development council have already approved a $94.5 million package that would fund construction and renovations to several community venues, including $20 million for the soccer stadium.

But approval hinges on a vote by the Orange County board of county commissioners (BCC) set for this Tuesday. Multiple sources have told ESPNFC.com that at present OCSC doesn't have the five votes (of the seven-member body) needed to pass the measure.

Two BCC members -- Pete Clark and Fred Brummer -- are currently in the "no" column. A third commissioner, Ted Edwards, said he hasn't decided which way he'll vote, but has admitted he has several issues with the proposed stadium deal.

Multiple sources have confirmed that OCSC will have to pay an expansion fee of around $70 million to enter the league, and is prepared to put $30 million towards construction of the venue, plus annual payments for the next 25 years.

But Edwards feels that since more than $200 million has been spent on renovating the Citrus Bowl, OCSC should simply play its games there, even though MLS has stated that a smaller venue is required in order for OCSC to garner an expansion team.

Edwards also voiced concerns over the multi-phase approach the team is taking towards construction, and is concerned that the team will come back later and demand more funds in order to finish the project.

"I’m trying to figure out if this is a fair arrangement," Edwards said via telephone. "Some communities, the government provides the land and the team builds the stadium. This one it's a combination of providing land and contributing towards the construction of the stadium. And with MLS raising the expansion fees, it seems like the burden has been shifted to the taxpayer for stadiums."

When asked what it would take for him to vote for the stadium proposal, Edwards said, "Have the team put in more money."

As it currently stands, the proposed measure will use tourist taxes not only to fund the soccer stadium, but also pay for upgrades to the Citrus Bowl, continue construction of the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center, as well as fund tourism-related marketing and advertising.

Yet in a phone interview with ESPNFC.com, Brummer indicated he intended to put forth a motion in which the individual funding pieces would be put to separate votes.

If that motion -- which requires a simple majority -- is passed, that would enable Edwards to vote in favor of the Citrus Bowl and DPAC pieces that he is known to support while voting against the soccer stadium. If the motion fails, then it will be more difficult for Edwards and other BCC members to vote against it when it comes to the overall funding package.

"I would hope the mayor [of Orange County] would give us that opportunity," said Brummer in relation to the motion. "There's different items in there that I think deserve support and there are items in there that don't deserve support."

Either way, Orlando City is working frantically to secure the fifth vote needed to pass the measure, so much so that MLS president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott is flying down to Orlando on Monday to aid the club's cause.

"We’re cautiously optimistic," said Orlando City president Phil Rawlins. "We have a very, very good case.

"I think it’s always good for a senior official like Abbott to be here, to just show support for the club and the process that we've gone through here. And also for them to talk to the commissioners and show MLS is excited by Orlando and supports our bid."

Brummer confirmed that he will be meeting with OCSC officials, but at this point he feels that the proposed stadium will not generate sufficient tourism.

"They have to be prove to me that the stadium is going to generate tourist nights in our hotels,” said Brummer. "That's what the tourist tax is about. None of what I have seen shows me that real tourist tax dollars will be generated [by the stadium]."

Tiffany Moore Russell, whose district contains the site for the proposed stadium is of the belief that the stadium will provide a sufficient return for the tax dollars that are invested, and allow Orlando to diversify the kind of tourists that travel to the city.

"One of the things Orlando and Orange County recognizes is the Brazilian market, the international market is huge for our tourism," she said via telephone. "We feel the stadium will help build that market and increase the tourist development tax dollars."

OCSC executives have stated there is no Plan B if they are unable to secure the $20 million. One alternative is that the club could try to secure additional funds from the Florida state legislature, but OCSC was already counting on that funding source to finance the later phases of the project.

The BCC meeting and vote is set for Tuesday.

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