With tens of millions of dollars in upgrades, Amalie Arena judged top in state

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

With more than $80 million of upgrades over the past six years — none of which was paid for by ad valorem taxpayers — Amalie Arena was chosen as the top venue for sporting and entertainment events in the state this week by an industry publication.

Venue Today posted the list earlier this week and the downtown Tampa arena finished first in Florida, according to Amalie officials.

“The rankings are just a barometer of how we’re doing,” said Kevin Preast, senior vice president of event management with the arena. “It definitely makes a statement that the activities of Amalie Arena, as well as the fans liking what’s coming into the building.

“We’re becoming a cultural center for the community …”

Last year, the venue also was tops in the Sunshine State, finishing fourth in the world and second in the United States. The rankings are based on ticket sales for concerts, events and family shows in venues that seat 15,001 or more.

Amalie Arena is home to the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Tampa Bay Storm arena football team and is host to a wide variety of concerts and other events, including circuses, ice skating exhibitions and even college basketball Division 1 tournament games.

Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has spent $62 million on the arena since 2010. The 20-year-old building, located on the waterfront in the southern reaches of downtown, currently is undergoing $25 million upgrade on top of the $60 million. Half of the new renovations are being funded through fees levied on to hotel room rentals.

The building is publicly owned and leased by Vinik, who has purchased acres of surrounding properties with development plans that include hotels, restaurants and the yet to be constructed University of South Florida medical school.

Vinik mostly has used his own cash to upgrade Amalie Arena, with some help from the county hotel bed tax, which collects 5 cents on each dollar. Each year, the bed tax rakes in about $23 million.

Sixty percent of that money pays for marketing efforts to attract tourists to Hillsborough County; 20 percent goes for capital improvements to Raymond James Stadium and Steinbrenner Field. The remaining 20 percent is used for capital improvements to the arena.

The county has not used general revenue funds, or money collected from property or sales taxes for the building.

Each year, the 670,000-square-foot arena with three decks and seven separate levels, hosts about 150 events, which officials say consistently ranks it among the top venues in the nation.

With a 38-year career in journalism behind him, Keith Morelli now writes about medical marijuana and the politics of pot in Florida. He began his career as a news editor with a weekly paper in Zephyrhills and his last gig was with The Tampa Tribune, which folded unceremoniously in May. While there, Morelli was general assignment reporter for the Metro section, writing a wide variety of pieces ranging from obituaries, to crime, to red tide, panthers and city government. In between those jobs, he spent nine years as a bureau chief for the Ocala Star-Banner. morellikj@gmail.com