SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers faced some high stakes Tuesday; not on the ice, but at Broward County Hall.
With opposition building against the Florida Panthers' request for $86 million for free rent at the county-owned BB&T Center in Sunrise, a majority of county commissioners made it clear at a workshop meeting Tuesday that they're in favor of a major public giveaway to the hockey team.
New Florida Panthers hockey team owner Doug Cifu said he has no plans to move the team with or without the $86 million bailout he's asking from public, but that didn't stop Broward County Commissioner Marty Kiar from laying out a doomsday scenario if the county doesn't vote in favor of the giveaway.
"If the Panthers leave and there is no professional sports team as a tenant then the value plummets," Kiar said. "We, the county, would be responsible for the $220 million in debt owed."
Yet the county's own auditor, Evan Lukic, pointed out that the deal gives taxpayers nothing, and that a big giveaway would make it easier for the Panthers to leave.
"It would, in fact, remove one of the financial consequences should the team, for whatever reason, leave Broward County," Lukic said.
While it will be the county commission that makes the decision, some opposing the proposal are lining up from Plantation, Hollywood, Deerfield and Davie.
"We believe the commission should slow down the process just a bit and reject the initial proposal," said Ed Walls, with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.
The county attorney says there's no legal guarantee for the money.
The commission decided Tuesday to look further at the proposal, but it's clear that a majority of the nine commissioners, many of whom have been given thousands in campaign contributions from the team, support a substantial giveaway to the team, including Kiar, Kristin Jacobs, Dale Holness, and Mayor Barbara Sharief.
"I'm leaning somewhere between $4 million and $5.6 million," Sharief said.
That's per year.
"We didn't come in here threatening to move the team or threatening legal action .... there's an interconnection between everything here and so really what we need is for everyone to win," said Cifu.
Commissioner Tim Ryan pointed out that the team has gotten more than $120 million in profits, while taxpayers have gotten next to nothing and Ryan said he wanted the public to get its fair share in any deal reached.
"My understanding of a partnership is there is a sharing of the responsibility, a sharing of the profits," Ryan said.