Broward County Commissioners OK $7.7 Million Loan to Florida Panthers

They voted 6-2 for the move, overcoming concerns the deal is a loss for taxpayers

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    Fans arrive at a game between the New York Rangers and the Florida Panthers on Feb. 13, 2009 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise.

    Broward County commissioners voted 6-2 Tuesday to approve a $7.7 million loan to the Florida Panthers for renovations of the team’s 14-year-old arena despite concerns the deal is a loss for taxpayers, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.

    The NHL team’s sister company, Arena Operating Company, plans to invest the money into the county-owned BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise. The team expects to make $21 million at the arena this year because of the Panthers’ strong performance on the ice and the renovations, according to the Sun Sentinel.

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    The Panthers originally asked the county for $14 million last summer, but used its own money for some improvements, while reducing its Broward request to $7.7 million. The county funds will go toward upgrades on digital signs, a new scoreboard and an upscale members-only club, among other things.

    Panthers President Michael Yormark said the team is winning and he wants to keep the momentum going.

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    "I believe we have bent over backwards to make this loan a very good deal for the county,'' he said.

    But since the arena opened in 1998, the county has spent tens of millions on it and received little in profit, while the Panthers organization has made an overall profit of $117.4 million from the facility, the county auditor says.

    In 2011 the team made $10.4 million in profits at the BankAtlantic Center while the county made none, according to the Sun Sentinel.

    Mayor John Rodstrom argued Tuesday that the focus should be on the financial health of the Panthers and the arena, because if the team defaults on their end of the deal, county taxpayers will pick up the tab, the Sun Sentinel reported.

    Sources familiar with the agreement, however, previously told NBC Miami that the $7.7 million loan will be paid back in no more than four years.