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County explores overhaul of TSA

Commissioners voted 6-1 to explore how to persuade the Legislature to change the Tampa Sports Authority.

By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
Published June 16, 2005

TAMPA - If they had their way, Hillsborough commissioners would abolish the Tampa Sports Authority, turn its operations over to a private company or at least restructure how it does business.

But commissioners can't do any of those things. Only the Legislature can.

So the commission voted 6-1 Wednesday to have its staff analyze which option might muster legislative support and to formulate a strategy. Commissioner Tom Scott voted against the proposal.

Hillsborough Commissioner Brian Blair has been pushing the idea of a dramatic makeover for the agency that runs Raymond James Stadium and three public golf courses.

He proposed the shakeup after the St. Petersburg Times reported on the agency's use of a luxury suite during Tampa Bay Buccaneers football games, during which board members got free food and alcohol.

The issue comes against a backdrop of the agency's ongoing financial losses. This year, the Sports Authority will run a $2.5-million operating deficit that local taxpayers must cover.

The deficit is expected to rise annually because the Sports Authority revenues are largely flat, but its costs grow. Subsidizing the agency will cost $121-million through 2028, said Mike Merrill, the county's debt management director. The authority also estimates it will need to spend $46-million in construction, largely upgrades and renovations to Raymond James Stadium.

The Sports Authority's executive director could not immediately be reached for comment.

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