Monday, December 17, 2012

Soccer Stadium Built on Charity Tax Loophole?

It took a few days, but details of how investors plan to build a $700 million soccer complex in Tampa without government dollars trickled out this weekend....and it turns out, there may be government dollars indirectly involved, after all.

A front-page story in the Tampa Tribune indicates the group would like to take advantage of a tax loophole - designed for charities and other non-profits - to finance part of a new stadium complex:
A program known only to the IRS, tax lawyers and charitable foundations allows charities to steer money to for-profit businesses as long as the ventures further the charity's public purpose.

Under the system, called a program-related investment, the project's backers would pool together money from wealthy individuals and charitable foundations and use it to pay for the sports complex's huge capital costs, said Everidge, whose Orlando-based firm, PRI Partners, is helping VisionPro raise money.
Ironically, the Tampa Bay Times published a front-page story the same day on the very same loophole, even though it focused on apartment-builders and not stadium-builders:
Now, under a new Florida law that was supposed to help charities, a handful of these wealthy developers are getting another lucrative benefit. They have found a way to move dozens of apartment complexes off the property tax rolls, saving themselves as much as $115 million in taxes a year but reducing revenues for already hard-hit schools and local governments in a way no one expected.

Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough and Hernando counties could lose a total of nearly $18 million annually.

The developers say the tax breaks will leave them with more money to maintain the apartments and keep rents affordable well into the future. But there is nothing to stop them from pocketing their tax savings as profit.

"I'm okay with people getting rich, but I think this is unseemly,'' said Cathy Jackson, executive director of the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida.

In 2011, the Legislature passed a law designed to give Habitat for Humanity and other nonprofit organizations a tax break so they could build apartments for the needy. Savvy for-profit developers realized that by forming their own nonprofit organizations they could qualify for the same tax breaks, saving themselves huge bills on each complex.

"It's all entirely legal,'' said Wellington Meffert, general counsel of the Florida Housing Finance Corp., which administers affordable housing programs in the state. "But what it will do is take a fair amount of taxable property off the tax rolls.''
Just as apartment-builders can take advantage of the inadvertant incentives, stadium developers could as well.  That's not to say it would be a bad deal for the region, but it doesn't appear to be totally "free of government money."

This idea also appears to open the door to legally launder pass money through charities to claim deductions and tax-free exemptions, but that's just speculation from this non-accountant.

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