Taxpayer cash could also be in play

Florida State University is examining the use of taxpayers’ money to fund, at least in part, planned renovations at Doak Campbell Stadium through the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency.

The inflow of funds raised over the past 20 years through a sales tax election initiative could be used in some of the stadium’s key improvements as the university continues to analyze the need for a convention center, which has already been allocated $ 30 million.

Emails the Tallahassee Democrat received upon request from public records indicate that Seminole Boosters CEO and President Michael Alford introduces Doak as a boon to economic development at a time when the university is growing at a time Has to fight deficit in her athletics department and is collecting donations for the stadium renovations and a football-only facility.

Background story:The FSU athletics deficit continues to grow, according to David Coburn, additional measures may be needed

And:Doak’s future? The FSU shares possible renovation plans for the football stadium

The emails show conversations between Alford and Department of PLACE Director of Planning, Land Management and Community Improvement Ben Pingree in late March, which included presentations on planned renovations to the stadium submitted to the FSU Board of Trustees.

The emails signal that the university is considering using dollars for economic development by showing how lucrative their football program is for tourism in Leon County.

It’s unclear whether money could be pushed away from the convention center to fund multiple projects at the FSU stadium, or when such a proposal could be presented to the IA board of directors, all 12 city and county officials, but blueprint officials say that nothing formal was suggested.

While FSU and Booster officials have been narrow-minded, there is some precedent in using taxpayer dollars on athletics facilities as the IA decided in September to pull money from the convention center’s allotment and steer it towards it Much-needed renovation work at Bragg Memorial Stadium.

In an interview with the Democrat, Alford didn’t respond directly to whether Boosters would apply for blueprint funding, but instead noted one key requirement for obtaining it: a community-wide benefit.

“To be clear, I was not involved in the talks at the Convention Center. My primary focus with the Seminole Boosters is building a strong fundraising organization and running the sports facilities that are vital to Tallahassee and Leon County’s economic base. “he said to the Democrat.

“FSU Athletics is having a huge economic impact on our community. Our football program alone has an economic impact of approximately $ 100 million on Leon County,” he continued. “We hired Populous (an architectural firm) to help us describe the opportunities and community benefits that improvements to our sports facilities could bring. We look forward to rolling out this updated information soon.”

Before:FSU applies for approval to raise funds to renovate Doak Campbell Stadium

Ben Pingree

Pingree said at the moment that the FSU is still analyzing the need for a convention center, which has been the subject of controversy among those who say it is a vanity project with little community use.

“If the FSU makes a new request, we will submit it to the IA board,” Pingree said in an interview with the Democrat. “At this point in time, no request has been made.”

“Preliminary talks”

Pingree referred to email discussions with Alford as “preliminary,” which includes discussions about the convention center’s analysis, conducted by an outside consultant.

He said the impact assessment would receive a status update of the proposal at its May meeting and the FSU was in the process of finalizing its own analysis of the project.

In an email to Blueprint staff in late March, Pingree requested that the information provided by Alford about the stadium renovations be included in the “Next Steps” section of an upcoming Convention Center agenda item.

Michael Alford, President and CEO of Seminole Boosters

FSU and Blueprint officials have expressed hesitation about the prospect of channeling $ 30 million from one project to another.

“The funding approved by the IA board is subject to the actions of the IA board. Currently, $ 30 million has been allocated, ”said Pingree. “That amount can certainly move based on the future direction of the IA board. You are waiting for an analysis of this project. “

Likewise, FSU officials are reluctant to say whether they intend to withdraw from the idea of ​​the convention center.

When asked if FSU is considering asking Blueprint to shift the focus of funding, the executive director of the University’s Real Estate Foundation Kevin Graham failed to provide details in an email. Instead, he recorded the history of the project and said, “Obviously there were many twists and turns along the way.”

“$ 99.9 Million Economic Impact on Leon County”

Through emails with Pingree, Alford delivered a presentation pre-made to the sports department in April that outlined and led the potential renovation work for Doak Authorization to raise funds to fund them.

Most of the proposals are about diversifying the seating options, incorporating chair backs, and offering premium club boxes and suites near the sidelines to create a premium fan experience. It is expected that the planned renovations could reduce the capacity of the Doak Campbell Stadium from nearly 80,000 to around 70,000.

Alford’s emails do not mention the proposed convention center but describe the need for stadium renovations and the potential economic impact.

A March 29 email from Alford discusses the economics of an FSU home soccer game, showing stadium investments at the Atlantic Coast Conference over the past 20 years. FSU ranked 6th with $ 85 million invested over the past two decades.

The core of Alford’s information: 91% of nearly 6,000 respondents want renovations, and more people in their seats mean more community income.

“Football game weekends bring a significant amount of tourism to Leon County. During the football season, out-of-town contestants generated $ 51.1 million in direct spending on seven home games, ”Alford wrote. He explained the number of hotel rooms booked for football and other sports and the total revenue generated when visitors spend the night eating and shopping.

“Visitors also booked 74,427 nights and spent $ 10,125,000 on accommodation. Overall, FSU’s home games in 2018 resulted in an economic impact of $ 99.9 million on Leon County. On average, participants in football matches outside of the city spent $ 465 per day and $ 1,209 per trip. “

Convention center piggy bank?

The convention center in the FSU-proposed Arena district, which connects the campus to the Civic Center, is funded by economic development funds as it could have a potential impact on the attractiveness of events and related trade in Tallahassee, the only state capital in the south without a convention center.

Connected:Call room service: Florida State University can build its own hotel in Tallahassee

However, funding for this has become an open fund for other athletics programs that need renovation.

Last fall, $ 10 million of that money was donated to Florida A&M University to help renovate the school’s Bragg Stadium, where the soccer team plays.

The move to allocate money to FAMU for athletics facilities because of its economic impact could have set a precedent for using dollars for economic development.

More:Money from the FSU congress center to finance the renovation of the FAMU stadium

Months after deciding to pay for Bragg renovations, Blueprint re-signaled that the company was ready to pump money into track and field facilities at Tallahassee Community College as it had a presentation and a $ 1 million request from TCC for the first time – President Jim Murdaugh entertained.

In February, Murdaugh made the case that the funds would bring improvements to various athletics facilities that are on campus but are used more widely by the community. The board of directors voted to return an item on the agenda to the funding request.

The FSU first applied for funding of the convention center through Florida legislation for PECO (Public Education Capital Outlay) in 2018, but the allocation was not made. So the university reached out to the IA, stating that they could take on a $ 20 million project for a smaller center but would want something more substantial.

However, the “high” demand for conferences that could fill the space described in a 2019 feasibility study has declined significantly due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In March 2020, Blueprint officials increased the allocation to $ 40 million, sparking backlash among some members of the public and some commissioners who want investment in other parts of the city instead.

During recent discussions, City Commissioner Curtis Richardson said the convention center was among projects approved by 60 percent of voters that extended the 2014 infrastructure and economic development sales tax. He said there was “an obligation for these voters to consider further development.” Project that has been approved. “

However, his colleague City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow has often criticized the convention center and the public funds allocated for it.

“Is the convention center more important than investing in affordable housing, expanding access to capital for black and women-owned businesses, or meeting our basic neighborhood infrastructure needs like sidewalks and broadband access?” he asked in an April Facebook post.

“We are responsible for ensuring that local tax dollars go to the public. While a convention center could be a great asset to the university, local sales tax is not a suitable source to finance it. “

Contact Karl Etters at ketters@tallahassee.com or @KarlEtters on Twitter.

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