House approves tax for Warren County sports complex

If passed by Senate, local tea party would oppose its implementation.

The Ohio House of Representatives supported a lodging tax initiative long sought in Warren County to help pay for a sports complex, but the plan will still face local opposition.

A provision of the budget bill passed Wednesday by the Ohio House would permit the county to levy up to an additional 1 percent in lodgings tax to help pay for the complex, expected to draw about 700,000 more people a year to what is already promoted as “Ohio’s Largest Playground.” The measure still needs approval in the senate.

The tax has been sought for more than a decade by officials in Warren County, including the Convention and Visitors Bureau, which would operate the complex.

ExploreIn 2011, the provision was left out of the budget amid opposition by Tea Party leaders in Warren County.

On Thursday, Tea Party leader Ray Warrick said he remained “totally against it.” Rather than try to block the provision’s adoption in Columbus, Warrick said he would appeal to the Warren County commissioners who decide whether to enact the tax.

“Why are you trying to create a field of dreams?” said Warrick, also chairman of the Warren County Republican Party.

The convention bureau plans to go forward with the project this year, regardless of the outcome on the additional tax, according to Phil Smith, president and CEO of the visitors bureau. The additional tax would be used to pay off debt service on the project.

“It’s the right time,” said Smith. “I’d like to break ground in the fall.”

Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices has agreed to provide 88 acres for the complex as part of the 1,400 acre Union Village new urbanist community planned across from Otterbein's main campus outside Lebanon.

ExploreWarren County has committed about $2 million from the existing 3 percent county tax to the project, but stipulated the complex be built by November 2017.

While not taking a formal position, the Ohio Hotel & Lodging Association said it supported the additional tax.

“The vast majority of our members in the county were for it,” said Joe Savarise, executive director of the association. “These types of permissive lodging tax increases need to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.”

In this case, Savarise said the local operators were swayed by projections for 82,000 additional room nights paid for by people in the area for events at the complex.

Both Warren County representatives backed it.

“I supported allowing Warren County the freedom to make their own decision on this,” said Rep. Paul Zeltwanger, R-Mason.

“I think it would be a big economic boost for Warren County,” said Rep. Ron Maag, R-Salem Twp. “Right now, let’s see what the senate does.”

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