Recognizing the urgency of the buildings’ economic situation, the commissioners agreed that the preservation of these buildings was going to be decided that day; however, concerns arose when they debated operating costs and appropriate sources of funding.
Tourist tax dollars were quickly nixed. “The reality is the capacity really does not exist in the tourist tax dollars,” said commissioner Ken Hagan. “I don’t think that’s a legitimate funding source.” But commissioner Mark Sharpe emphasized that in the long-term, tourist tax dollars should be targeted. “We used [tourist tax dollars] for sports buildings and I recognize the value to our community, but when the teams have come and gone, the buildings, especially the historic buildings, are there and we need to take care of them.” He mentioned speaking with La Gaceta publisher and editor Patrick Manteiga, who has used his weekly column to criticize the board for misplaced priorities (comparing the controversial Regent project in Brandon with the historic Ybor buildings).
The expensive Emergency Operating Center (EOC) soon appeared on the chopping block. “In order to utilize funding from that source, we have to take it from an existing project.” said commissioner Hagan. “Like it or not, there appears to be only one project that has the most potential to utilize funding while not outright eliminating the project and that’s the EOC.”
All of the commissioners offered their visions for future historic preservation. Commissioners Kevin Beckner and Mark Sharpe recognized that the $2 million dollars was not enough, and emphasized that a long-term plan with a strict, structured funding mechanism was needed. Commissioner Victor Crist took it a step further; he suggested taking another $2 million from the $37 million-budgeted EOC to host a countywide historic preservation challenge fund to raise money. Although the crowd was receptive to this idea, the commissioners shelved this idea for another day.
Meanwhile commissioner Sandra Murman looked at TIF (Tax Increment Financing) as a long-term solution, “I do think we should send a letter to the city to ask them to pursue a higher TIF allocation. I think it would be in our interest to definitely pursue that.”
In the end, the vote was a unanimous 6-0. $2 million will be earmarked from the EOC to the historic buildings, and $500,000 will be given towards future preservation projects.
“On qualifying how the money will be used, I believe that the following should be included,” said commissioner Hagan in his motion. “Subject to being a historic structure, the money can be used for restoration, preservation and maintaining facilities, subject to a business plan that reflects how the money will be utilized detailing the public purpose and how the club contributes to tourism and economic development.”
At the backdrop of The Regent's opulent expenses in Brandon, many of the activists felt this vote was a long time coming. Judge E.J. Salcines, who spoke to the commissioners about the rich history of these clubs, expressed elation at the vote: “We have been working on this for quite some time.”
You can watch the meeting in its entirety here.