A controversial move to give Florida State University and Doak Campbell Stadium millions of dollars in Blueprint sales tax proceeds cleared the end zone on Thursday, with a majority of city and county commissioners backing the funding after months of political maneuvering and intense public outcry.
The Blueprint 2020 Intergovernmental Agency, made up of the 12 city and county commissioners, voted 7-5 in favor of bond funding for stadium repairs and a number of other local projects. The decision means Blueprint will move forward with a $20 million stadium loan plus nearly $7 million in interest.
Leon County Commissioner Jimbo Jackson moved to approve the bond financing, getting a second from Mayor John Dailey.
“It’s one time I’m going to cheer on the local team,” Jackson said, adding that the project would create jobs in the community.
All eyes were on the AI members – who have voted yes to the proposal three times since it surfaced last year – and whether any of them would change their position under a campaign of orchestrated pressure. However, no one has changed their vote since the last meeting in December, even though the county Commissioner Bill Proctor suggested late last week that he might.
The vote came after another long round of public comment and debate among IA members at City Hall. More than 30 people – the vast majority opposed to stadium funding – spoke at the meeting.
Opponents continued to deride it as an unnecessary giveaway to taxpayers that would drain Blueprint’s economic development funds for years. Many said they would vote against any commissioner who supported him.
Jackson said the projects included in the link structure represent opportunities for infrastructure on the west and south side of the city where there has historically been less investment.
“This project is located in the 32304 zip code. It will serve all zip codes as well,” Jackson said of the Doak project.
He noted how the west side of the city has become a “landing zone” for social services such as the city’s jail and homeless shelter, but there has been little economic investment.
“I believe we need to invest in the western part of Leon County to save a very dying part of our city and our county,” Jackson said. “I’m making the superseding motion in the interest of advancing the other eight projects.”
County Commissioner Kristin Dozier, a leading opponent of stadium funding who is eyeing a run against Daileyjoined other critics in noting that the other eight projects could still move forward even if the stadium project was taken out of the mix.
Dozier offered to override a Blueprint vote from last year that pushed the project forward. However, his motion was eventually overridden by Jackson’s replacement motion to approve the projects.
She said that based on current estimates, the stadium would leave Blueprint’s Office of Economic Vitality with meager financial resources for economic development over the term of the sales tax, which expires in 2040. She pleaded with her colleagues to reconsider.
“You can change that vote,” Dozier said. “That doesn’t have to happen today.”
Commissioners expressed concerns over funding for the stadium while others pointed to the economic power it would bring along with the other eight projects included in the bond.
City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox said she wants to keep all projects in the online liaison structure for funding going forward.
“I do my best to represent not just the people who come to his room, but the 200,000 people in this city. It’s my job to represent them as best I can,” she said. “Commissioner Jackson. I am with you brother. We have to move these projects.
County Commissioner Brian Welch, who first backed the project last year but later voted against it, said funding football stadium repairs with tax money didn’t have the same return than other economic development projects, naming the recent investment in an Amazon distribution. center.
“You can do 10 Amazon projects for the size of this allowance. I can’t walk away from this. It’s just not the best bang for the buck,” Welch said. “I feel like we call something economic development when it comes to an economic donation to a supporting organization. It’s not my money to donate to FSU.”
Two county commissioners seen as swing votes needed to stop the tie, commissioners Carolyn Cummings and Bill Proctor, did not comment on the point.
Mayor John Dailey, a cheerleader for the project from the start, said only, “For the sake of brevity, I am prepared to vote on the superseding motion.”
City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow noted earlier compromises, by him and County Commissioner Rick Minor, last year to cut funding.
“It was clear that compromises were never on the table,” he said.
He commented on the tense political environment that funding for FSU stadium repairs created among board members who used the rules of procedure to maintain their positions instead of allowing the process to work.
“Take the floor movement, let it go up or down and then move forward,” he continued. “I have to wonder why members of this body are being denied this opportunity.”
At the end of the meeting, his colleague and city ally, Jack Porter, offered to bring back an informative item to the agenda on AI structure that would include a staff discussion on hiring and dismissal of PLACE director Ben Pingree. This motion was approved.
She worried about how the stadium fundraising project came to be, revealed by the Tallahassee Democrat as a staff-involved initiative that developed behind the scenes last summer.
“I have a lot of concerns about how this project came about and the policy of conduct of unelected staff. I had to find out about it in the newspaper,” Porter said.
After the meeting, she said, “I think we need a change with the position of director of PLACE.”
Any changes to the interlocal agreement regarding the position will require approval by the city and county individually.
FSU President: Vote ensures Doak will remain ‘a significant contributor to the local economy’
For the first time, FSU President Richard McCullough spoke on behalf of the project in a videotaped message. He said the university is committed to ensuring that the tax investment translates into more benefits for the public.
In a statement after the vote, he said: “Today’s vote ensures that Doak Campbell Stadium will remain an important contributor to the local economy for years to come. We congratulate the Blueprint Board of Directors for for supporting this long-term investment in our community.”
A dozen people gathered in front of the town hall before the start of the meeting to show their disapproval of the project. Inside, supporters of the project began handing out stickers reading “Yes to Doak”.
Several speakers feared that if the stadium project were approved, voters would turn their backs on Blueprint in the next sales tax initiative. They also promised reprisals at the ballot box. Carlos Alvarez, a lawyer and environmental activist, said no one ever mentioned stadium funding when voters approved the last Blueprint initiative in 2014.
“The lasting negative impact of this oversight … will be felt negatively for decades as … more public funds are demanded of the voting public,” Alvarez said.
NAACP President Mutaqee Akbar said the problem is not just about politics. He asked how the investment in Doak had any effects on poverty or helping people.
He noted that the FSU has an obligation to ensure that taxpayers’ money goes to something that benefits the people who paid it.
“It’s a people thing. Interestingly, when people start to stand up and talk about what they want, it becomes divisive. It’s not divisive,” a- he said. “FSU, it is your responsibility to have an impact here on the community in which you find yourself.”
Distribution of votes
- County Commissioners Carolyn Cummings, Jimbo Jackson, Nick Maddox and Bill Proctor
- City Commissioners John Dailey, Curtis Richardson and Dianne Williams-Cox
- County Commissioners Kristin Dozier, Rick Minor and Brian Welch
- City Commissioners Jeremy Matlow and Jack Porter
Contact Karl Etters at [email protected] or @KarlEtters on Twitter.
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