Florida Panthers officials appeared Friday before the Broward County Tourist Development Council to plead their case for the county to channel millions more in tourist tax dollars to the financially ailing team.
They got a lukewarm reception, and council members opted to mull over the request before recommending whether the county should grant it.
"I don't think we're ready for this," council member Tim Schiavone said. "We're not in a position to spend that kind of money."
With a video extolling the BB&T Center in Sunrise as a tourist magnet, Panthers CEO Michael Yormark explained during an hourlong presentation that the team and events at the arena draw hundreds of thousands of tourists to the area. But the Panthers are losing about $30 million a year, he said.
The county already contributes $8 million a year from a 2-percent bed tax on hotel guests to pay off the arena's construction debt. The team is asking for a greater portion of the money generated by the bed tax for the debt, as well as help with maintenance and insurance costs for the arena.
"We're not too proud to say we need some assistance," Yormark said.
The team is asking for an additional $6.2 million annually over 14 years, for a total of $86.8 million.
The $6.2 million figure, up from a previous proposal of $5.6 million a year, was new to Barbara Sharief, county mayor and chairperson of the tourist council. "Right now the numbers keep changing," she said.
The county's lodging and tourism industries want to use a portion of the bed-tax money for beach renourishment and tourism marketing. "Without the beaches, we're like everyone else," Hollywood Mayor Peter Bober said.
"The beach is a huge priority," said council member Andreas Ioannou, with the Fort Lauderdale Hilton.
National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman appeared to buttress the Panthers' case. "The more [tourist] traffic that can be brought to Broward County, the better," he said.
Panthers officials also argued that the county's 2-percent bed tax, passed in 1996, should by ordinance have been dedicated strictly to the arena. County Attorney Joni Armstrong Coffey disagreed, saying the tax was only designed to "assist" the arena.
But council members were willing to compromise.
"I might be able to find some way to find some relief," Bober said.
"We probably need to slow this down … attempt to find a middle ground," said council member Bobby DuBose, a Fort Lauderdale city commissioner.
"It may not be the entire ask, but we know at this point that something has to be done," Sharief said.
The County Commission will meet Tuesday to discuss the issue further, and it may be months before officials settle on how much, if anything, they're willing to give the struggling team.
"I think that we're going to come up with something between $4 [million] and $6 million," Sharief said after the meeting.
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