Multisport complex redering

La Vista could use help from the state in transforming a sod farm near Interstate 80 into the Nebraska Multisport Complex, a city official told a legislative committee Friday.

Mayor Doug Kindig said backers of the multisport complex say the project’s future doesn’t depend on changes to an arena-financing mechanism — called a turnback tax — allowed under state law, but those changes would make the project more feasible.

If the Legislature approves those changes, the estimated $125 million complex could be built with $50 million from the state, $10 million from the city and the rest through private donations, he said.

“Does this make it easier and allow the project to maybe be a little more successful? ... Without a doubt,” Kindig told the Legislature’s Revenue Committee.

State Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk introduced Legislative Bill 884 as a way to level the playing field among three publicly built arenas and similar future projects, such as the multisport complex.

Existing state law allows cities to divert 70 percent of new state sales tax collected by businesses near the cities’ arenas back to the cities to pay off arena debt.

The remaining goes into a separate fund, which helps community projects in smaller towns and cities.

Ralston can divert new state sales tax collected by businesses within 600 yards of its arena, compared to Lincoln’s 450 yards and Omaha’s 200 yards.

Under Scheer’s bill, all three arenas would have a 600-yard collection radius, as would similar future projects.

The bill would help La Vista by applying the collection radius to 600 yards of buildable land — paving the way for the multisport project to benefit from a Costco retailer planned nearby.

Though Scheer pitched his bill as providing uniformity, State Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha argued that it would simply make another exception for another project.

The measure would cost the state $1.4 million in its first year and $3.4 million by the next, a legislative fiscal estimate predicted.

“It seems like with each project, we give a little more,” Harr said.

Both Harr and Scheer raised concerns about tweaking state statute each time a new project comes forward.

Harr noted changes made for the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, followed by requests from Lincoln and Ralston.

But Kindig said if no growth happened around the Nebraska Multisport Complex, the state isn’t out any money. The $50 million figure is the maximum that the state could contribute over the 20 years that the turnback tax lasts.

The complex’s 185-acre site near Interstate 80 and Giles Road in La Vista will feature two Olympic-sized pools, 12 soccer fields, 24 tennis courts and turf fields that could support soccer and lacrosse. Plans are for work on the site, which is in an area prone to flooding, to start this year, and the facility is scheduled to open in 2017.

On Friday, Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus questioned the legitimacy of using the turnback tax mechanism as a way to build public projects.

Despite help from the state, the Ralston Arena has had financial problems that have fallen to taxpayers. Last year, Ralston increased the property tax rate 2.5 cents and instituted a 2.5 percent restaurant tax, among other measures, to help pay its arena debt.

LB 884 stands to benefit Ralston, too, by expanding the time frame in which taxes could be collected by surrounding businesses.

Ralston can collect sales taxes from businesses that opened within two years before and two years after the arena opened.

Under Scheer’s proposal, Ralston could collect for seven years after the arena’s opening, allowing the city more time to entice new business, Ralston Mayor Don Groesser told the committee.

The turnback tax already is benefiting all three cities. State figures show Ralston bringing in an expected $2.1 million in 2014-2015, compared with $1.6 million for Lincoln and $2.7 million for Omaha during the same period.

Preliminary figures show Omaha’s number could increase to $6 million if the turnback tax radius were expanded, said Marty Bilek, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert’s chief of staff.

Omaha supports the measure, Bilek said, saying it offers the state a long-term benefit.

“Eventually bonds will be paid off, and because of new development, all of that development will generate state sales tax that will go back to the state coffers,” he said.

The Revenue Committee took no action on the bill.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9581, emily.nohr@owh.com

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