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Pinellas News

Money for Oldsmar BMX track upgrade in limbo

BY JOSH BOATWRIGHT
Tribune staff

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CLEARWATER — It wasn’t quite the answer Oldsmar city officials were looking after their $1.1 million request to the county to build an Olympic-grade BMX bicycle track.

Pinellas County commissioners and members of the Tourist Development Council at a Tuesday meeting said they strongly supported helping the city get the track expansion moving within the next year, but they would only make a decision after the Florida Legislature decides whether to fund the project in the coming state budget.

The request came at the end of a forward-looking meeting to discuss future funding of big capital projects after debt for Tropicana Field is paid off, but commissioners said money for the Oldsmar track wouldn’t be available this year.

After several pleas for an immediate commitment from Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis, commission Chairwoman Karen Seel moved to reconsider the request in May.

Should state legislators strike a proposed $1.2 million from the budget, the county would consider making a financial commitment for the track. But the $550,000 payments over two years would have to wait for subsequent budget cycles, meaning the city would need to take out a loan in the meantime.

Bevis pressed the commission for a firm decision Tuesday, saying the popular bike track needs to be overhauled before next year’s popular Gator Nationals competition in the spring or they may risk losing their favored spot on USA BMX’s calendar.

“We’re looking for a commitment and it’s a very time sensitive issue for us both for the Road to Rio [Olympics] and the sensitivity for getting the track done so that international riders can come over here and start training next year,” said Bevis, adding that Sarasota County is currently considering a similar track expansion.

Many commissioners spoke positively about helping the track, which brings thousands of BMX riders to the area every year.

“I think they have more than proved the value that it brings in terms of heads in beds. It’s an incredible opportunity. They’ve done a fabulous job with what they have,” Commissioner Susan Latvala said.

The city has put together half the funds for upgrading its facility at Canal Park to a BMX Supercross track, but needs about $1.1 million to complete the project.

Leaders in the tourism industry have raised questions about the city requesting tourist development funds while the state legislature is contemplating the same support, said Visit St. Pete/Clearwater executive director D.T. Minich.

County commissioners and TDC members spent most of Tuesday’s meeting discussing future capital projects.

Both groups broadly supported changing Pinellas County’s Tourist Development Plan to raise the annual cap for big projects from $1 million in matching funds each year to $4.5 million each year.

They also favored eliminating a $500,000 cap for any single project and requiring a dollar-to-dollar match from groups requesting support.

County staff will revise the plan before it is brought back before the TDC and then the county commission for approval.

About $6 million in additional bed tax money will be available after bonds for Tropicana Field are paid off in 2015.

The commission and the TDC were reluctant to add a sixth cent to the tourist tax this year as the county considers a sales tax increase for the Greenlight Pinellas transit plan this fall.

Under state law, the county can increase its tax on overnight stays from 5 percent to 6 percent after passing a state benchmark of $30 million in collections last year.

The catch, which tourism leaders didn’t know initially, is that the county could lose its ability to raise the tax if collections dip below that threshold later, Minich said.

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