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Broward debates bed tax dollars for Panthers vs. beaches

Panthers CEO Rory Babich wouldn’t play ball when we asked him today what his Plan B is -- and if it includes relocating the team --- if the Broward County Commission rejects his request for a hike in bed tax dollars.

“In my view that is a hypothetical ....,” Babich said in an interview after a Tower Forum event in Fort Lauderdale Thursday. “It’s my belief we will reach an appropriation resolution.”

The Panthers, which lose about $30 million a year, are seeking an increase in bed tax dollars paid by tourists to help pay off the debt on the county-owned arena. On the other side of the debate was Kevin Speidel, area management director for Hilton Worldwide and Broward’s president of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. The county’s hotel and tourism industry wants money devoted to the county’s main tourism draw: the beaches.

The Panthers -- and the arena which hosts other events -- is not one of the main tourism attractions in Broward.

The county’s tourism czar Nicki Grossman  said in an email: “We estimate that about 30,000 room nights are related to all events at the arena (concerts) annually. We have over 8 million room nights per year sold.”

The Panthers get $8 million a year from a 2 percent bed tax. Preliminary estimates indicate that the Panthers’ request would cost the county about $5.6 million “however, the proposal lacks any meaningful consideration to the county in return,” county auditor Evan Lukic wrote in February.

Currently the Panthers get 16 percent of the bed tax -- their request would raise that to one-third, Speidel said. The team’s lease is through 2028 -- the remaining debt is more than $200 million.

Babich argued that the bed tax has generated more than the county originally predicted and therefore the Panthers should get a “portion of that excess.”

Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry said in an interview that the County Commission may not vote on the Panthers’ request before the commission starts it’s summer break in late June. Commissioners are divided on the bailout request and it’s unclear at this point if it will pass, the Sun-Sentinel shows.