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2 posts from May 2013

May 14, 2013

PANTHERS GET THEIR SCOREBOARD: County Tourism Taxes to Pay for New HD Scoreboard for 20th Season

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Florida Panthers president Michael Yormark looked as if he had been called into the Principal's office for good portions of Tuesday's meeting with the Broward County Commission.

Yormark's mood changed once the scoldings ended.

After being dressed down and forced to apologize for the team's incomplete financial records, Yormark walked out of the Broward Government Center with a $4.2 million grant for a new scoreboard at the county-owned BB&T Center.

The motion to give the Panthers the money from the Tourist Development Tax's reserves passed by a 6-2 vote.

Sue Gunzbuger and Tim Ryan voted against and Stacy Ritter abstained as her husband Russ Klenet has lobbied for the team in Tallahassee.

"This was bigger than a scoreboard. It's about tourism and economic development,'' Yormark said outside the commission chambers.

"It's about creating more visibility for Broward County. We had a very strong case. We have developed a strong partnership with Broward County. .-.-. I thought we were going to get a fair shot. And we did.''

The day wasn't a lopsided victory for the Panthers, but it was close.

County auditor Evan Lukic spoke before the Panthers made their presentation for a new scoreboard and master control center to replace equipment the building opened with in 1998.

Lukic's report spelled out a number of financial discrepancies between the three companies which comprise the Panthers organization: The Arena Operating Company, Sunrise Sports & Entertainment and the Florida Panthers hockey club.

Lukic contends the AOC overpaid the Panthers by $4.2 million on arena returns yet underfunded its reserve accounts.

According to Lukic, one account that should have $2 million has a balance of just $163.81. Another account should have $3.3 million; Lukic says the balance is $6,712.41.

Yormark promised the situation would be taken care of by August 31 telling the board to "hold me accountable.''

"You've given us your word,'' commissioner Lori Wexler said, "and we've heard that before."

Yormark and the Panthers aren't arguing Lukic's finding but say it's simply an "internal accounting issue" which doesn't affect how the Panthers pay the county or does business. "We've been a wonderful partner with the county,'' Yormark added.

Lukic said without proper documentation from the Panthers, the county doesn't know how much money it should receive from the team.

Gunzburger said the Panthers paid the county $26,000 last year -- just the second time Broward County received anything since the arena opened.

The Panthers and the county have a complex profit sharing agreement in which Broward County basically gets 20 percent of every dollar over the first $12 million the team clears.

Ryan proposed lowering the threshold to $9 million although that was voted down by the same 6-2 tally the scoreboard was approved by.

"We work extraordinarily hard to drive the maximum profitability out of that building,'' Yormark said. "Our hope there is more distribution. Last year there was a small one. We're going to continue to grow our revenue.''

Although Lukic spoke out against the county paying for the scoreboard -- something he said the Panthers should pay for since the county wouldn't benefit from the purchase -- the commission didn't agree.

"You can't win them all,'' Lukic said. "I don't vote. I did my job today.''

A big turning point toward the Panthers getting the money came when Nikki Grossman, CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the commission a large Jehovah's Witness international convention wouldn't come to South Florida without updated audio and video capabilities at the arena.

Although Wexler and others scoffed at the $96 million in economic impact the Panthers and Grossman claim the convention will bring, they mostly agreed the impact would be big enough to move forward.

The convention is expected to be held over four weekends next summer with potential return in 2015 and '16. The commission was told the event will bring 12,000 hotel nights to the county next June.

David Zimmerman, general counsel for the NHL, told the commission the NHL would bring its draft weekend to Sunrise within the next three years and promised South Florida was back in the rotation for future All-Star Weekends.

"This is the first time in which the status of their scoreboard crept into my vision,'' Grossman said afterward. "If we could have fit the Jehovah's Witness convention into the convention center, we wouldn't be here. They needed the larger venue and needed the scoreboard for their communications with other conventions.''

Yormark said the scoreboard would be ordered immediately and the old one would be dismantled and hopefully donated to a local high school soon.

The new scoreboard, Yormark said, would be in place by the Panthers' first preseason game in mid-September.

"When you look at what we've done to our building over the past decade, this is the final piece,'' Yormark said. "To have this behind us, to open our 20th anniversary season with a new scoreboard is exciting. The experience is going to be enhanced.''

PANTHERS GET THEIR SCOREBOARD: County Tourism Taxes to Pay for New HD Scoreboard for 20th Season

May 13, 2013

PANTHERS GO FOR COUNTY FUNDS: Team Looks for New Scoreboard as NHL Promises Return of Draft, All-Star Game to Sunrise ... County Auditor Questions Team

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

-- First photo below is courtesy of the Panthers and part of their presentation to the Broward County Commission.

-- Second image is from the Panthers and the events they say they will bring to Sunrise and their take on the economic impact. These are their numbers, not mine.

PANTHERS LOOK FOR SCOREBOARD MONEY FROM COUNTY

The Panthers go before the Broward County Commission on Tuesday as they try to get a much-needed scoreboard for the Sunrise arena.

Michael Yormark says the Panthers can get a state-of-the-art board and a new master control center for $4.2 million.

If the county agrees to pay for the scoreboard, it will be in place by this coming season.

If they don't ...

"We've put enough money into the building,'' Yormark said, adding the team is spending $1 million to replace the original flooring in the main concourse this summer.

"We're not in the position to buy one. If the scoreboard just collapses next year, which I'm sure it will, we just won't have a scoreboard.''

Yormark said Monday that an NHL rep will be with him at Tuesday's commission meeting in Fort Lauderdale.

Why?

To tell the commissioners that if the scoreboard is approved, the NHL promises to bring the draft to Sunrise within the next three years.

It will also put Sunrise back in the mix for a future All-Star Weekend.

Yormark said Monday that while Sunrise wouldn't be at the top of Gary Bettman's All-Star list, the Panthers would be near the top if the commission approves the money.

High-profile regular season college basketball as well as NCAA and Conference USA men and women's basketball tournaments are also on Yormark's radar for the arena.

The Panthers hosted the All-Star Game in 2003 and are thought to be down on the list to host again just because so many other markets want it. That could change on Tuesday.

Yormark also said the Panthers would bid for the NCAA's Frozen Four.

"Our proposal is to bring value back to Broward County and to our hoteliers,'' Yormark said. "Hopefully the commissioners see that in good faith. We're not just trying to take money. We're trying to bring money and business back to Broward County.''

The Panthers will have to contend with county auditor Evan Lukic who will speak before the Panthers get up to the dais.

Lukic told me that the team should pay for such an upgrade themselves.

"They are responsible for replacing the scoreboard,'' Lukic said. "We are not. They have other means in which to pay for it.''

Lukic is also going to report to the commission that the Panthers haven't lived up to their contract as far as keeping reserve funds paid up.

Lukic contends the AOC overpaid the Panthers by $4.2 million on arena returns yet underfunded its reserve accounts.

Yormark and the Panthers aren't arguing Lukic's finding but say it's simply an "internal accounting issue" that doesn't affect how the Panthers pay the county or does business.

According to Lukic, one account that should have $2 million actually has a balance of just $163.81. Another account should have $3.3 million; Lukic says the balance is $6,712.41.

"It's set up so the AOC would always have sufficient funds,'' Yormark said. "This is just semantics. Have we ever missed a payment? No. Have we always met our obligations? Yes. There are no issues here. We haven't missed a payment on anything for 15 years.''

Writes Lukic: "Although the AOC has historically paid its obligations to the County on time, AOC has not properly funded the reserve accounts. This violates the Agreement, reduces the security for required payments to the County and reduces the ability of the AOC to fund additions and capital repairs.''

As far as paying for the scoreboard goes, Yormark says that bill should go to the county.

The Panthers, in the middle of a 30-year lease with the county, have the same scoreboard the arena opened with in 1998.

The new scoreboard would feature super-sized high definition screens sandwiched between two LCD ribbon rings.

The arena, Yormark says, desperately needs the upgraded video and audio capability.

"We have puts tens of millions of dollars into this building since it has opened,'' Yormark said.

"The county has not put one dollar into this building as a gift or as capital improvement. Not one. We've taken loans out, but we're responsible for those. It's their building. They own it.

"The scoreboard is a permanent fixture. If the Florida Panthers leave tomorrow, we couldn't take it with us. We've been a great partner. They haven't had to put any money into this building in 15 years.''

The current scoreboard has had a number of malfunctions over the past few seasons and Yormark said spare parts are growing scarce.


PANTHERS GO FOR COUNTY FUNDS: Team Looks for New Scoreboard as NHL Promises Return of Draft, All-Star Game to Sunrise ... County Auditor Questions Team

PANTHERS GO FOR COUNTY FUNDS: Team Looks for New Scoreboard as NHL Promises Return of Draft, All-Star Game to Sunrise ... County Auditor Questions Team