News Column

Citrus Bowl Renovation Could Cost More Than Thought

July 3, 2013

The pricey renovation of the Florida Citrus Bowl -- already controversial because the municipal stadium doesn't have a professional sports team -- may be getting more expensive, the Orlando Sentinel has learned.

After years of delays, work on the 77-year-old stadium is expected to begin in February. But as the city prepares to put the finishing touches on the redesign, stadium boosters say the budget of about $190 million isn't enough.

They are quietly lobbying for another $18 million to $27 million.

"We're trying to make sure that we leave ourselves with maximum flexibility and get a first-rate stadium when we're finished," Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said.

Plans call for demolishing much of the stadium, including the entire lower bowl, and then rebuilding. When the work is finished in early 2015, about 80 percent of the facility will be new.

The project was approved in 2007 as part of a $1.1 billion downtown-venues plan that also included the Amway Center arena and the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. The arena opened in 2010, and the first phase of the arts center is now under construction. But the stadium renovation, which was to have started in 2009, stalled with the recession and is only recently back on track.

The projects were controversial because they are funded mostly with tourist-tax dollars. But criticism has perhaps been loudest about the Citrus Bowl.

The stadium currently hosts several annual college-football matchups -- including the Capital One Bowl, the Russell Athletic Bowl, the Florida Classic between Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman, and the MEAC/SWAC Challenge -- as well as the popular Monster Jam motorsports event. But its only tenant is Orlando City Soccer Club, and that team is pushing to move out of the Citrus Bowl and into a new stadium of its own.

Even so, the nonprofit group that hosts events at the stadium says it may need more money to add features to the redesign that would make the stadium competitive when it comes to bidding for big events -- including a future BCS National Championship Game.

"There's no question it's going to be short of what it could be," said Steve Hogan, chief executive officer of Florida Citrus Sports.

Dyer said that, as architects finish the redesign, officials from the city and Florida Citrus Sports are discussing what amenities would attract other events and weighing that list against what they can afford. He said there are "eight to 10" potential additions under consideration, including more permanent end-zone seating and an extension of the superstructure in the south end zone to create a concourse that could later be converted into extra suites and club seats.

"We've got a list of things we'd like to do, and we're trying to decide which of those to do," Dyer said. "But it would make it easier if we did have a little more money."

That money would largely come from the tourist-development tax collected on hotel rooms -- a tax that is controlled by Orange County. The county already has committed about $155 million to the renovations, including extra money to cover cost increases caused by delays.

County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said she was recently asked to support increasing the Citrus Bowl's price tag by $18 million to $27 million. The lower figure would be enough to enclose two open-air club-seating areas and to renovate existing suites and a media area on the west side of the stadium, she said.

"The only thing that I'm entertaining, and I believe the only thing that's still on the table at this point, is the $18 million request," Jacobs said. "The details haven't been completely ironed out, but I am generally in support of the concept."

Of the $18 million, $12 million would come from the tourist tax. The Florida Citrus Sports Foundation would raise the other $6 million through private contributions, Jacobs said.

Hogan would not confirm financial details.

If true, the $6 million would be the first private money committed to the Citrus Bowl renovation, which has otherwise been funded entirely with public money.

mschlueb@tribune.com or 407-420-5417; ddamron@tribune.com or 407-420-5311.

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Source: Copyright Orlando Sentinel 2013