Next Wednesday, the Hillsborough County Commission is poised to approve an agreement with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that will include spending $29 million in taxpayers money for improvements to Raymond James Stadium, the home of the Bucs that was built with public money back in 1996. That money would come from 4 cents of the 5-cent county tourist tax, which must be spent on sports facilities or promoting tourism.
But expect the board to encounter some turbulence before that vote, as the Florida Chapter of the Americans for Prosperity are calling on their members to show up to oppose the subsidy.
“Floridians have enjoyed a rich sports history, but the massive cost to taxpayers is simply out of bounds,” said AFP’s state director, Chris Hudson. “It makes no sense that Hillsborough commissioners are talking about increasing taxes on their residents, but somehow have enough money in the taxpayer coffers to throw an errant pass to the Bucs by way of $29 million for video monitors and luxury box renovations.”
The Bucs say they are committed to spending at least $58 million of their own funds for the stadium upgrades, and possibly up to $70 million. Combined with the $29 million from the county, the funds will go toward new HD video boards, sound and concession improvements, and an overhaul of luxury suites.
“This is a great day for our entire community as we work toward an agreement that ensures Raymond James Stadium will remain one of the top sports facilities in the country,” Buccaneers Chief Operating Officer Brian Ford said last week after news of the deal broke. “The proposed agreement will provide the type of much-needed enhancements that will improve the in-game experience for our loyal Buccaneer fans and will play a key role in our ability to attract the types of large-scale events that we have grown accustomed to hosting over the years. These exciting projects have been made possible through the hard work and foresight of all parties, including public officials from the TSA, Hillsborough County and the City of Tampa.”
Those large scale events include the NCAA college football championship game in January 2017, and possibly a Super Bowl in either 2019 or 2020. Tampa is one of four cities in the mix for one of those games. The NFL will decide among Tampa, Miami, Atlanta and New Orleans next spring.
AFP’s Hudson says he’s actually a big Bucs fan, “but this franchise should be ashamed of themselves for asking taxpayers and fans to pay to enjoy these games twice — once at the box office and again at the tax office. Hillsborough County commissioners should not give in to these demands!”
Hudson says that the organization and their activists will be canvassing neighborhoods and making phone calls to county residents to inform them of next Wednesday’s vote. He adds that AFP-FL will also launch direct mail into Hillsborough County “to hold the elected officials who support these wasteful spending practices accountable to their constituents.”
The county is obligated to pay part of the cost of any stadium upgrades under the original lease agreement with the Bucs.
The Sports Authority will vote on the deal next Tuesday. The BOCC votes on Wednesday and the Tampa City Council will vote on the issue the next day.