After seven seasons at the RP Funding Center, the Florida Tropics announced Friday they are leaving because of proposed rent hikes. | Florida Tropics

*UPDATE: City Manager Shawn Sherrouse released a statement Saturday evening describing low per-game revenues compared with other events and a naming rights discussion with the Tropics that never materialized. He added that the city’s Spring Training partnership with the Detroit Tigers is both profitable and secure.

Just 10 days after the Orlando Magic announced that it’s pulling its G League team out of Lakeland, another sports franchise and anchor tenant is departing the RP Funding Center.

“After seven seasons of play in the Major Arena Soccer League, the Florida Tropics no longer plan to call RP Funding Center home,” team CEO Dr. Panos Iakovidis said in a news release Friday.

He said recent rent hikes proposed by city and arena leaders were “exorbitant” and make staying in Lakeland “financially unfeasible.”

“I can’t speak for other renters, but last year our rent was approximately doubled from the 2021-22 season, which was tough to swallow. In recent conversations, they are proposing to approximately double that again for next year, which is completely unrealistic,” he said.

Iakovidis said the soccer club will look for other arena options across the state to determine if the team will have an eighth season.

He said over the past four years, the Florida Tropics have had the second-most regular season wins in the MASL and advanced to the league championship series last spring.

“We’re very proud of our record of seven years of great soccer and entertainment,” Iakovidis said. “We’re very sad that city and arena officials have chosen this direction to effectively force its long-standing partners to choose another path – but they have left organizations like ours or the Magic little choice.”

“We will always be grateful for those partners and fans who have invested their time, talent and treasure to see us succeed – we know who they are and regret that their support ultimately was not important to this city,” he added.

RP Funding Center manager Tony Camarillo could not be reached for comment late Friday, but he has been under pressure from the Lakeland City Commission to generate more revenue and reduce the city’s subsidy of the center.

At a retreat last year, Mutz assigned him the task of cutting $800,000 from the $1.8 million subsidy the RP Funding Center projected it will request from the city in next year’s budget — down from $4.4 million annual subsidies three years ago.

Camarillo, who negotiated the original five-year, $5 million sponsorship deal that brought the Magic to Lakeland, has reduced the city’s annual operations subsidy by 60% despite enduring a pandemic-induced “worst year ever” in 2020.

For FY 22, which began Oct. 1, Camarillo forecasted the center’s total revenues would top $5.2 million, with costs about $8.23 million — a $3 million deficit.

Of that $3 million, $500,000 is from the city’s public improvement fund (PIF), $653,000 is annual interest payment on the $16.3 million Series 2017A bond the city issued to co-finance the center’s 2017-21 renovation with Polk County, and $1.874 million is a direct transfer from the city’s general fund to cover operational shortfalls.

The City Commission has been considering bringing in a professional venue management company or consultant.

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Cindy Glover moved to Lakeland in 2021 after spending two decades in South Florida. Her career has included journalism, education, digital marketing and public relations. She worked for the Albuquerque Journal and South Florida Sun-Sentinel and spent a year as a community engagement coordinator for the City of Lakeland before joining LkldNow.

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1 Comment

  1. It is absolutely insane to think you could hike the rent that high and think that they wouldn’t at least look at other locations. It’s not rocket science, you work at bringing in more revenue by booking and hosting more entertainment not just slam the only thing you have going. We could have concerts, good ones like we did in the 70s and 80s. The market isn’t too small. Tampa and Orlando were bigger markets back then too, but we could still book them here. Running off money you already had makes zero sense. We are one of the largest growth markets in the country, but you can’t get an adequate amount of entertainment booked. Something needs to change, no excuse for losing either of these teams.

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