Despite fierce criticism from a group of vocal naysayers, Blueprint’s 2020 board voted on Thursday to move forward with a more than $20 million plan to use sales tax funds to repair Doak Campbell Stadium.
The Intergovernmental Agency, made up of all 12 city and county commissioners, voted 7-5 in favor of a nearly $116 million bond sale to pre-fund stadium repairs and eight other projects .
The vote came after four hours of debate and sometimes bitter public comment. Mayor John Dailey presented the winning motion, although he did so without further details.
Critics have vowed to continue fighting the proposal. They will have another opportunity to make their voices heard in February, when the IA takes over the bond financing for final approval.
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Residents lined up in city commission chambers to denounce the proposal. Representatives from Florida State University, including outgoing athletic director David Coburn and basketball coach Leonard Hamilton, spoke in favor.
The money, FSU officials explained, would not be used for luxury items but rather for ‘structural and safety improvements’ to the 71-year-old facility, including the installation of new toilets, urinals and handrails and replacement of rusted rebar.
“Frankly, it’s not the kind of thing donors dream of putting their name to,” Coburn said. “They don’t want to tell their buddies, ‘Yeah, that bathroom on the second floor is named after me.’ “
This led to even more criticism from naysayers who questioned whether the university was maintaining the stadium properly. It also sparked a few jokes on social media.
“Can I increase my recall gift and have a urinal named Steve Spurrier?” one person joked on Twitter about the former University of Florida football coach.
Hamilton urged support, saying: “I ask you – I implore you – to look at the bigger picture. We’re all in the same boat.”
The first request for funding arrived last spring
FSU asked Blueprint last spring for $20 million for stadium work. The IA voted 8-4 in September to go ahead with the project, which will cost a total of nearly $26.5 million with bond interest.
The Blueprint action means the agency, which is funded by a voter-approved 1% sales tax, has wiped out its bonding capacity until 2040, when the current tax expires. It also means that Blueprint will only have around $700,000 available for incentives and other economic development efforts until 2028, when more revenue will start rolling in.
The opposition denounced the lack of liaison capacity and the smallness of the sums remaining for economic development. They also said the money would be better spent on other initiatives, including job training and helping local small businesses.
Mutaqee Akbar, president of the Tallahassee chapter of the NAACP, whose board voted against funding, said little money would be left for later projects that could benefit minorities more.
“Today we ask you to do the right thing,” Akbar said.
County Commissioner Brian Welch said the FSU could afford to do the repairs on its own and the takeover wouldn’t create many jobs or “move the needle” on the economy.
“For me, it’s not personal,” he said. “It’s not political. My opposition to this article is purely political. Every taxpayer, every family, every businessman – it’s their money. This money really should be used for the benefit of everyone.”
Critics, who have vowed to hold the commissioners accountable at the polls, hoped at least three would change their vote. But only one, County Commissioner Rick Minor, chose to do so. Minor, who had earlier voted in favor of the proposal, announced the change of heart before the meeting based on what he saw as overwhelming community opposition.
“FSU is a partner of ours,” Minor said. “We want and need the stadium upgraded. However, Leon County residents have made it clear that they want to see these limited economic development funds spent in other ways.”
But no other commissioner from the winning side decided to join him. Along with Minor, County Commissioners Kristin Dozier and Brian Welch and City Commissioners Jack Porter and Jeremy Matlow voted no.
Economically important stadium for city, county, backers say
Fans touted the stadium’s economic importance to Tallahassee. In a typical season, FSU football generates $50 million in direct local spending.
“I can’t say enough about the partnership FSU provides to our community,” County Commissioner Jimbo Jackson said.
The meeting was marked by parliamentary maneuvers. Blueprint President Nick Maddox said he would follow “seniority” and allowed Dailey to speak first, giving him the opportunity to present the motion which ultimately passed. The speaking order was atypical, if not unprecedented, for the AI.
“That seems a bit unusual, Mr. President,” Minor said.
Minor then moved to overturn the September vote, but Blueprint attorney Susan Dawson told him he couldn’t because Dailey’s motion was already on the floor.
After that, Dozier announced that she would propose to cancel the September vote at the next IA meeting in February and asked that she be the first to speak then. It remains to be seen whether other commissioners will defect to his side.
Dozier recalled that when the 2020 Sales Tax Blueprint was approved by voters in 2014, it included $20 million in possible funding for an FSU convention center. But she said it was never a “placeholder” guaranteeing college money.
She also said Blueprint staff knew over the winter that the convention center was too expensive and not a feasible project, but withheld that information until May, when FSU officials requested funding for the stadium.
“It was put in place to create division,” Dozier said. “That’s why I think FSU has been put in a terrible position. So we all have.
Contact Jeff Burlew at [email protected] or follow @JeffBurlew on Twitter.
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