Could the Florida Panthers be leaving town?
The Broward County Commission might hold the answer when they vote on Tuesday over an $86 million bailout package that the team is saying they need to make sure it doesn't fold in South Florida.
The Panthers say they are losing millions and need the money, which would reportedly come from a hike in tourist taxes generated by area hotels, to cover the losses. The package would average $6.6 million in payments made through 2028, but would be front-loaded with an initial $12 million.
The deal also has $39 million earmarked for capital expenses at the BB&T Center, which doesn't include another $45 million to cover operating expenses and in order to bring in an NHL All-Star Game.
As it is any time a professional sports franchise begins to ask for money from taxes, the public reaction is mixed. Two years ago, the Panthers had asked Broward County for $70 million, claiming that they had been losing $20 million and that they need public funds to keep from being dissolved from the NHL. They then re-booted their request to $80 million a few months after that. That amount has now grown to $86 million.
In September of last year, the Panthers were bought for $240 million by a group led by New York businessman Vincent Viola.
The Panthers have had an operating loss of $12 million for the 2011-12 season and were worth $170 million, according to Forbes.
In 2013, the Broward Commission awarded the previous team owners with a $4.2 million scoreboard.
At the time, Broward County auditor Evan Lukic said that, even though the county owns the BB&T Center, the team should pay for the scoreboard themselves. The team argued that Broward County had not, until that point, put any money into the arena for "capital improvement."
The commissioners agreed and awarded the team with the new scoreboard.
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For the latest proposal, Lukic says that the Panthers have done a good job in bringing forth a solution to their issue.
“We entered into this business arrangement some 20 years ago now, and things have not worked out for our partners, and quite frankly, they haven’t worked out as well as we expected, either,” Lukic said via the Sun-Sentinel. “So we’re sitting here saying, ‘What do we do next?’ I believe the team’s done a good job bringing forward a plausible solution to the problem.”
The package has provisions in it that would protect Broward County, including the county receding a portion of what the Panthers earn whenever the NHL has a new expansion team added to the league. Broward County will also get 10 percent of the proceeds if the Panthers are ever sold. There is also an out-clause from the county within eight years if the Panthers decide to leave town. They would also have to pay back $72 million to the county.
The proposal will need a 5-3 vote to pass. Mayor Marty Kiar has already indicated that he will vote no.