A group ranging from Democrats to tea party faithful rallied Tuesday to oppose tens of millions in public tax dollars going toward a new soccer stadium plan backed by sports and business boosters.
Orlando City Lions investor and Brazilian multimillionaire Flavio Augusto Da Silva committed as much as $80 million on a bid to lure a Major League Soccer franchise to Central Florida.
But team leaders says that MLS officials consider a new soccer-specific stadium a prerequisite to get one, and the latest plan calls for public funds to cover about half the estimated $85 million cost of its first phase.
"It's another corporate welfare project that's going to benefit big business and not the residents," said Matthew Falconer, a Republican and 2010 county mayoral candidate.
Falconer joined a group of stadium critics that included former Orlando mayoral candidate Mike Cantone, a Democrat; Clyde Fabretti, a West Orlando Tea Party founder; Democrat activist Lawanna Gelzer; Doug Head, a former county Democratic chair and leader of CountyWatch.
Head pointed to Orlando's failed downtown redevelopment efforts over the last five decades, and described the soccer stadium as yet another "corporate welfare" plan for those who see the Parramore community it would be built in as a "business opportunity, not a home."
County Mayor Teresa Jacobs initially pushed for any new MLS team to play in the Citrus Bowl, which is about to undergo $190 million in renovations. But Jacobs has since backed off that stance, and has asked only that the team put in more private funds.
Jacobs allowed some of the group to speak in a public comment period Tuesday, but told them a soccer-stadium plan would not be formally discussed until a future hearing.
Falconer said that if the county and city leaders give taxpayer funds to the soccer owners, it would influence how money is spent locally, and ultimately hurt other small businesses who can't get such public support.
"It helps just a small group of people," Falconer said.