Orlando soccer park, EverBank Field ranked by state economists

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – State economists on Tuesday gave Orlando's planned $110 million Major League Soccer stadium the top ranking over three existing sports venues as Florida lawmakers decide how to divvy up sales-tax dollars for stadium-construction projects.

The Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research placed the proposal from Jacksonville's EverBank Field second, followed by Sun Life Stadium in Miami-Dade County and Daytona International Speedway.

The four proposals combined are seeking $9 million a year from the state. But they are vying this year for money from a pool of $7 million that lawmakers approved in 2014. The pool grows in 2016. Daytona International Speedway and South Florida Stadium, applying for the Miami Dolphins home Sun Life Stadium, are each seeking $3 million a year for 30 years for ongoing improvements.

Orlando has requested $2 million a year for three decades to help pay for the soccer stadium. Jacksonville, with its application supported by the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, has asked for $1 million a year for three decades.

The rankings were based on a set of criteria that lawmakers wanted the state Department of Economic Opportunity to use when reviewing the economic viability of each proposal. In a letter Tuesday to House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, and Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, chief economist Amy Baker advised lawmakers to reconsider the criteria for reviewing future stadium proposals.

"The evaluation and ranking criteria treats the incremental sales tax as no more important than any other criteria," Baker wrote. "Future ranking criteria should emphasize the economic benefit to the state and attribute points based on increments and levels that are supported by economic reasoning."

Crisafulli and Gardiner on Jan. 30 directed the economists to rank the projects. That came after the Department of Economic Opportunity gave support to the four proposals but didn't provide rankings.