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Naples Daily News (Florida)
At a workshop Tuesday, members of Collier County's Tourist Development Council continued to express concerns about using tourist tax dollars to build a multimillion-dollar amateur sports complex.
After hearing three ways the project could be funded by the county — including two options that would require a penny hike in the tourist tax — council members remained cautious about their support.
The advisory board has major concerns about the operating costs, the true cost of construction and the bonds that would be issued.
Councilman Clark Hill said he feared the bonds might jeopardize funding for beach renourishment and tourism marketing if the county saw a significant downturn in visitation, because paying off the bonds would come first, pulling money away from the county's other priorities.
He said now is not the time to consider such an expensive project, coming off a year when tourism numbers declined.
Several other council members shared Hill's concerns, including Victor Rios, who stressed the need for more money to keep up the county's beaches.
"We know we don't have enough money as it is," he said.
Rios went as far as to ask, "Do we need more people here?"
The new sports complex, which could cost $60 million to $80 million, has been floated as a way to grow sports tourism in the county and to meet growing community demands for more fields and courts.
Tim Durham, the county's executive manager of corporate business operations, presented three options for funding the sports complex, all of which assume about $5 million is needed annually to repay the bond:
Keep the tourist tax at 4 percent and cut the annual budget for tourism promotion by $2.99 million. While marketing dollars would be reduced, funding for beach projects would increase by $460,000 to $9.13 million a year.
Increase the tourist tax to 5 percent and shave $150,000 from the annual tourism promotion budget. Funding for beach projects would increase under this scenario, too - by $2.88 million to $11.55 million a year.
Hike the tourist tax to 5 percent while increasing money for beach projects by $2.04 million and adding $685,000 to tourism promotion annually.
All of the models that were presented assumed that county-owned museums would no longer receive tourist tax money for their operations.
Instead, the money would come from the general fund, an idea many Tourist Development Council members seemed to support.
Council members took several public comments, including from Randy Smith, president of the Collier County Lodging and Tourism Alliance, who said money for promotion needs to be increased.
"Promotion is what drives visitors to come to the area," he said.
Asked by one councilwoman what he thought about the sports complex, Smith said he'd like to know more information about it, too. "I would like to think it would be helpful," he said.
Tom White, a managing partner of Hawthorn Suites in Naples, said he thought the complex was just the type of "green, clean economic stimulus" the county should be looking at to help promote itself to visitors and to meet local demand by sports enthusiasts.
He emphasized the project wouldn't just help hotels, but restaurants, gas stations, rentals car companies and other area businesses. "Everything benefits from this," he said.
Dave Trecker, a representative for the the Collier Citizens Council and the Collier County Presidents Council, took a different view, saying the county should "put beaches first."
"My wife and I just finished hosting three waves of visitors from the North, and the first thing they all wanted to do is go to the beaches," he said. "That was the priority. Nobody said, 'Do you have sports complex; if so I would really like to go there.'"
The final decisions will be up to county commissioners.
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