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    Tax bill swells as Bucs stall

    The team won't sign off on a deal transferring ownership of Raymond James Stadium from the sports authority to the county, costing taxpayers.

    By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 18, 2003


    TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are playing hardball.

    The Bucs have been part of a recent proposal to relieve the Tampa Sports Authority, owner of Raymond James Stadium, of an annual $4.3-million tax bill on the stadium.

    Basically, the sports authority would have to transfer ownership of the stadium to Hillsborough County. Under state law, the sports authority has to pay taxes on public stadiums, and the county doesn't.

    But the Bucs must sign off on the deal. And now the Bucs have decided that they will agree only if the sports authority pays for additional insurance and security at the stadium.

    Those costs could offset much of the savings from eliminating the tax bill.

    The demands have caught county officials off guard, especially because the Bucs weren't being asked to give up anything by signing off on the property tax deal.

    "In the past they have told me that as long as this is revenue-neutral, which it is, they would sign it," said Henry Saavedra, executive director of the Tampa Sports Authority. "I am surprised."

    Although the sports authority and Hillsborough County are the central parties to the property tax deal, it can't go through without acceptance by the Bucs, the stadium's main tenant.

    The Bucs and the sports authority have been in a monthslong dispute over insurance coverage. After Sept. 11, many insurance companies stopped covering damage from terrorist acts, or began charging more for it.

    Currently, the sports authority holds a policy insuring the stadium for up to $20-million in the event of a terrorist act.

    The Bucs say the policy should cover the full replacement costs of the stadium, about $185-million. The team also says the policy fails to cover wind damage from named storms, as required.

    "We've been working with the Tampa Sports Authority on this issue as well as several other issues that remain unresolved," said Jeff Kamis, director of public relations for the Buccaneers. He said the Buccaneers want those issues resolved before they move forward on a new deal.

    Kamis said a 1996 agreement that spelled out how the stadium would be built and operated requires the sports authority to maintain insurance that would cover its full replacement cost.

    The sports authority says the agreement doesn't include terrorist acts or wind storms. Its board of directors will consider Monday whether to seek a judge's opinion on what level of coverage is required.

    Separately, the sports authority is seeking to have the Buccaneers pay the cost of additional security, about $8,000 a game. The Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, paid the costs for the 2001 season and for the two preseason games in 2002, but have refused to pay since.

    The National Football League is encouraging stadium owners to pay for additional security. The sports authority believes the team should pay for it and will consider asking the courts to review that as well.

    "We have not been able to come to a resolution," Saavedra said. "The only way to satisfy them may be to go to court."

    Hillsborough commissioners voted March 5 to take over ownership of Raymond James Stadium to get rid of its property taxes. The vote capped two years of debate after the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that sports venues owned by governments but leased to sports teams are taxable.

    That made the sports authority responsible for a large tax bill. Because it has no money to pay it, the burden falls on taxpayers.

    The court ruling didn't apply to counties. So by taking over ownership, Hillsborough makes the tax bill go away. By holding up the transfer of ownership, the Bucs are keeping the taxpayers on the hook.

    The maneuver by the Bucs has at least one commissioner wondering if the team was serious about signing it.

    "They're really trying to put in an obstacle in terms of signing that agreement -- an unrealistic obstacle," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Frank, a persistent critic of the stadium financing deal.

    Saavedra said he was unable to say how much the sports authority is paying now for insurance because much of his staff was on vacation. The authority paid $266,167 for property, liability and auto insurance on the stadium and three golf courses it manages in 2002. But the amount climbed when its property insurer dropped coverage and the sports authority had to find another provider.

    The board is working with a consultant to scout new policies.

    "There have been different quotes made, but they're all over the map," said the consultant, Otto Lee Henderson, president of Henderson Insurance Consultants Inc.

    Last year, the city of St. Petersburg's insurance payments on Tropicana Field quintupled, to $1-million.

    In a story for Cox News Service last year, Robert Hartwig, chief economist for the Insurance Institute of New York, estimated the cost of a $100-million policy in the range of $7-million to $15-million.

    "My guess is that that would actually be a bit less today," Hartwig said Thursday. How much less he couldn't say.

    On Monday, Hillsborough Commissioner Jim Norman, who sits on the sports authority, asked County Administrator Dan Kleman to join the discussions. He said stalling the matter further will only cost taxpayers.

    "I'm hoping he can work out the issues because it's costing us $2,500 a day to talk about it," said Norman, referring to the amount the property tax bill for the stadium climbs daily.

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