High impact tourism leads to Tallahassee convention centre

 Tuesday, October 6, 2015 


TallahasseeThe Leon County Commission hopes the capital city to build a convention center — but it is going to take a bit of work. Commissioners want the Florida Legislature’s permission to increase its bed tax so that there is money to maintain and operate a convention center. Tallahassee civic and business leaders have talked about building such a facility for at least a generation.

Included in the Commission’s 2016 Legislative Agenda is a proposal to expand eligibility for a Local Option High Impact Tourist Development Tax to counties that are home to a Preeminent State Research University. Florida has two such institutions, Florida State University and the University of Florida. If the plan is successful then Leon and Alachua counties would be able to levy a penny increase to its bed tax; Leon’s current rate is at its maximum state-mandated cap of 5 percent.

“We’re in the early days of this and we’re just saying we support the Legislature authorizing it for counties with a preeminent research university,” said Leon Commission Chair Mary Ann Lindley.

“Raising a tax is something they don’t like to do,” observed Lindley, who noted if the proposal becomes law then a majority of county commissioners would have to agree to the 1 percent increase.

Dale Brill, the former director of the Governor’s Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development in the Crist administration, questioned whether a super-majority Republican Legislature and a governor known for keeping his eyes on the bottom line would agree to such a proposal.

“Any contemplated proposal of a tax increase to support operations of a convention centre could easily be interpreted as saying the project represents a net loss,” observed Brill.

Six counties are currently designated as high tourism impact counties and are allowed to collect an additional penny in bed tax. The Legislature created the local tourism option for, among other things, to maintain, operate and promote publicly-owned facilities like convention centres, arenas and stadiums. Three attempts by Tallahassee civic and business leaders in the past 25 years have failed to break ground for a convention centre. This time the county sees FSU’s Arena District Plan as creating the critical mass of space and attractions to lure people needed to make a convention centre economically feasible. The university is planning to spend up to $400 million redeveloping the neighbourhood bordering the campus along Pensacola and Madison streets.

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