Council proposes funds reallocation to pay for stadium
The Tourism Development Council is proposing a decrease in beach and shoreline funding in favor of a new Red Sox stadium, a project still in its infancy.
The TDC joined county commissioners at a workshop Tuesday to discuss the possibility of reallocating bed taxes to help pave the way for the new stadium, a move that has caused distress to waterfront municipalities and environmental organizations countywide.
The proposed budget also includes increased marketing, up to 60 percent from 53.6 percent.
The remainder of the budget breaks down to 20 percent for beach and shoreline projects, and 20 percent for the new stadium.
This diverges from a budget that has been in place since 2004, in which beach and shoreline funding made up 33 percent of the budgets, and the stadium debt service — which goes toward paying off the City of Palms Park and Lee County Sports Complex — sat at 13.4 percent.
The move comes after commissioners committed 20 percent of TDC funds to the Red Sox organization, effectively keeping them in Lee County for another 30 years. Commissioners then left it in the hands of the TDC to determine where the 20 percent would come from.
As of yet, commissioners have not made the decision that beach and shoreline funding will be affected.
Commissioner Tammy Hall said beach and shoreline funding will not be “pillaged,” and the environment is still safe with the proposed decrease.
“We’re not talking about taking dollars away from environmental projects,” Hall said. “That funding is tight, it’ll be there.”
The proposed change to the budget has unsettled waterfront communities.
Sanibel City Manager Judy Zimomra stated that the city has not taken an official position throughout the budgeting process, but said the beaches are the county’s “bread and butter,” and without healthy beaches, baseball alone would not draw repeat visitors.
“If they do not have a good experience, they will not come back,” she said. “If we don’t have a quality product, it will be hard to bring people back.”
A site for the new stadium has yet to be determined. There is a deadline of June 1 for the selection, but Commission Chair Ray Judah urged patience throughout the process.
“I don’t want a sense of urgency to fill our thoughts,” he said.
Though the proposed reallocation is not a formal budget recommendation to county commissioners, the TDC is expected to make one after its meeting Friday.
Commissioners will vote Tuesday on whether to approve the lease for the new stadium. The date in which the budget will come before commissioners has not been determined.