A last minute deal could get Orlando City Soccer the 5 votes it needs to fund a new soccer stadium. Orange County commissioners will vote Tuesday on a $96 million package of tourist tax spending that would give the team $20 million towards construction of a new stadium.
MLS President Mark Abbott came to Orlando on Monday to lobby commissioners to pass the package. He would not guarantee FOX 35 that they would award Orlando an expansion franchise, but came as close as a lawyer can to the guarantee.
"I think all that remains is to finalize an expansion agreement, and I don't see any obstacles in the way to doing that, but that is a final step that we do need to go through."
Abbott made it very clear what would happen if 5 of the 7 commissioners did not vote "yes" on the stadium financing. There will be no alternate locations, and no "do-overs."
"We wouldn't move forward with Orlando if we don't have a positive vote and move forward with a stadium in this downtown location. We think that that's not just a requirement from the league, but that's what's necessary for success and we wouldn't want to be in a situation where we wouldn't be successful, so I can be very definitive about that."
Several commissioners have called for the funding of Orange County's youth soccer programs, similar to the Orlando Magic building community gyms. Jennifer Thompson has led the effort, but did not want to comment until the public meeting and vote.
Commissioner Pete Clarke had been asking for taxpayers to own a portion of the team at one point, but says this could be a similarly good compromise.
"If we can't do it statutorily, then through contracts to let the team give back to our Parks Departments so that we have soccer leagues they can play in."
Orange County does have enough money to build soccer fields if it chooses, through the fees it collects to build parks from residents and developers. Commissioner Clarke says building the fields could be done by the county.
"We can build fields. Of course, you know it's operations that's always a problem. You can build something, but can you run it? If we get the money to run it, then I think that if the money's right, I'm OK with soccer."
Commissioner Ted Edwards tells FOX 35 he is still on the fence, but does not think the building of a few youth fields should change his mind.
"To take that deal and say well, we can't support it, you know straight up, but if you give us some other things we'll support it. I don't think is appropriate. Either it passes mustard or it doesn't," he said.
The deal that will be voted on is not only for the soccer stadium. Commissioners will vote on spending millions in tourist taxes -- $25 million would go to the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center, $12 million to the refurbishing of the Florida Citrus Bowl, $20 million for the soccer stadium, and an additional $25 million to boost tourism marketing over 5 years.
Commissioner Edwards still holds that they do not have to vote on all of the items at once, and it may not be the best idea to do so.
"There's no law that these have to be tied together. It's just being done for political reasons, and so, if we have to vote on them separately, we can do so."
Orlando City Soccer went on the offense last week using social media to urge voters to contact all county commissioners and ask them to vote "yes."
Abbott expects the franchise announcement to come sooner rather than later. Miami is also in negotiations for a team, but Abbott says that decision will not affect the effort to bring a franchise to Orlando.
A public hearing begins at 2 p.m. on Tuesday and is expected to last several hours. Any member of the public that lives in Orange County and wants to speak about the deal will be given 2 minutes.