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Hillsborough BOCC approves stadium improvement deal with Tampa Bay Bucs

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

They’re not using general revenue tax dollars!

That was the message that six of the seven members of the Hillsborough County Commission emphasized on Wednesday in voting to approve a deal that will send $29 million in taxpayer money to the Tampa Sports Authority to make improvements on an estimated $87 million plan for Raymond James Stadium. Commissioner Stacy White was the lone dissenter to oppose the deal.

Due to a previous deal that the county is obligated to from nearly 20 years ago, the TSA was already obligated to provide $25.9 million in improvements.

Those funds will come from tax dollars collected on hotel room stays – money that can only go to things like stadium improvements or tourism related issues, and not for things like transportation, street lighting or other essential needs for the county that some citizens called for in addressing the board.

The deal was negotiated by the Sports Authority and passed on Tuesday. The Tampa City Council will vote on the deal on Thursday.

There was also pressure coming from the Florida chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch Brothers funded group who had alerted their members to contact the board to reject the deal. Commissioner Al Higginbotham said that his office had recorded 148 messages overnight. Afterward, the anti-tax libertarian group condemned the vote.

“Whoever said that government has a role in propping up professional sports teams needs a lesson in free market principles,” said AFP state director, Chris Hudson. “Citizens have been calling and emailing their commissioners, who should have listened to their concerns about the exorbitant waste that transpired today. The fact is that the Hillsborough BOCC had the ability to disburse these funds over a longer period of time and focus on more important and immediate needs in the community.”

“Taxpayers have gotten a raw deal,” acknowledged Commissioner Ken Hagan, who sits on the TSA and helped work with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers management on the negotiations. “We’re making a bad deal better.”

Among the reasons he gave for saying that is that the deal also eliminates the $11.6 million obligation that the county had to build the Bucs a practice facility, a contentious issue that has simmered for years. “This agreement will have us satisfied and fully performed all the requirements, ” said County Budget Director Bonnie Wise.

Also as part of the deal, the Bucs are responsible for all cost and budget increases, all incremental increases in maintenance costs, and 100 percent in maintenance costs for all new projects, as well as all construction timelines. “The burden is on the Bucs, not the county,” Hagan said.

The improvements include increasing the size of the video boards from 2,200 square feet to 9,600 square feet, an enhanced audio system and fourteen 300 Level concession improvements.

Commissioner Sandy Murman said the deal will be giving the taxpayers a good return on investment. Commissioner Higginbotham said that he believes the taxpayer always come first and said that’s what the deal does, while Commissioner Les Miller said that he was reversing his previous vow never to support any more deals with the Bucs after the debacle that was the 1996 Community Investment Tax that paid for Raymond James, said he learned that he should “never say never.”

Tampa Bay Sports Commission head Rob Higgins said that without approving the deal, Raymond James would be only the fourth best in the state.

Raymond James is in the hunt to host the Super Bowl in either 2019 or 2020. It will be hosting the national college football game in January of 2017.

Commissioner Stacy White made no public comments before voting no on the deal.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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