Tiger Town renovations at the Lakeland spring-training complex has been scaled back, as city and county officials work to put together a funding plan.
The original price tag for renovations to the spring home of the Detroit Tigers, which includes Joker Marchant Stadium, was $50 million, but that number has been trimmed down to $37.5 million. The current funding equation: $17 million from the Polk County bed tax, $12 million in state money and $7 million from the city. This still leaves a small funding gap.
And none of these revenue streams are totally assured. One big issue is using $17 million from the county bed taxes. Though it’s been estimated that Tigers spring training brings in $45 million annually to Polk County, some are opposed to using so much county money on a single project. And there’s also the issue of basically using the rest of the proceeds from the county bed tax on a single project. Baseball tourism is a big thing in Polk County, and it goes on in cities like Auburndale and Winter Haven. From the Lakeland Ledger:
The Tourism Development Council will consider a recommendation from a subcommittee Thursday that could put off proposed projects in Auburndale and Winter Haven for about 10 years in favor of a $17 million contribution to a $37.5 million renovation of the Detroit Tiger’s spring training home in Lakeland.
The Polk County bed tax — a 5 percent sales tax levied on short-term rentals throughout Polk County — could be used to take out about $22 million in bonds, but a $17 million expenditure would kill other projects because county officials want to keep some wiggle room so they won’t default on a bond if the economy takes another downturn.
That means if the Tourism Development Council agrees to support the $17 million contribution to the Joker Marchant Stadium renovations, hopes of funding new baseball fields for the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational and locking in the tournament and its $24 million economic impact past 2019 is unlikely.
Funding things like youth baseball fields isn’t as glamorous or impactful as funding a makeover of Tiger Town. But there’s a very real economic impact when it comes to youth baseball, which means the politicians in Polk County will need to make some hard decisions.