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Must Bucs give up $12M?
Taxpayers could see training facility cash back in their coffers, the Tampa Sports Authority says. But it'll depend on several things.
By KEVIN GRAHAM
Published September 19, 2006
TAMPA - Millions in tax dollars that Hillsborough officials had offered the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a new training facility must be taken off the table unless the team gives ownership of the facility to the public.
That was the legal opinion offered Monday by the attorney for the Tampa Sports Authority as part of a debate over $12-million in incentive money once offered to the Bucs as part of a deal to build Raymond James Stadium.
The team's gleaming new $30-million facility opened in August, built entirely with private money. The Bucs now say they want to use the public's $12-million to spruce up Raymond James, perhaps with new locker rooms.
But the Sports Authority's attorney, John I. Van Voris, said the money was offered for the training facility and can't be used elsewhere. The team signed an agreement with the agency in 1996 to deed over the training facility if they took the money.
"Absent the transfer of title, it is my opinion that the Buccaneers have no legal claim to use the allowance for any purpose," Van Voris told the agency's executive director in a letter.
Complicating the issue is the cost of the facility. In 1996, it was possible to build a training complex for $12-million, said Barbara Casey, authority spokeswoman. A decade later, the Bucs paid more than twice that, which could make it less appealing to take the public's money in a swap of ownership.
Bucs chief operating officer Eric Land said it's too soon to say what the team will do.
A response could take up to six months. That's when the team expects to receive a final certificate of occupancy for the training facility, replacing a temporary one now in force. "Any comment earlier than that is speculative and premature," Land said.
Meanwhile, the Sports Authority is trying to figure out whether the original $12-million investment came solely from the county or from a combination of sources. And what to do with the money if the Bucs don't transfer the title.
Hillsborough voters approved a referendum in 1996 that included a special sales tax to pay for Raymond James Stadium. The training facility money was attached to that agreement.
"I'd love to have the money come back to the taxpayer, back to the county if at all possible," said Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Jim Norman, who sits on the Sports Authority. "That's what lawyers are looking at now."
The Bucs spent just over $336,000 of the $12-million while exploring sites and designs for the facility.
Finally, in late 2002, Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer and his family paid $22.8-million for the Tampa Bay Center mall, which was demolished for the project. The property is on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, just blocks from the stadium.
Sports Authority chairman Mark Proctor called the discussion a "moot point" until the Bucs receive the final certificate of occupancy. Contractually, the ownership swap could begin once that happens.
Sports Authority member Bob Buckhorn said he wouldn't support using the money toward anything but its original purpose.
"It's an interesting case, and we haven't figured out where everything is," Buckhorn said.
Norman said county commissioners wanted to re-create a paper trail to track the source of the $12-million.
Van Voris said he hoped to have an answer in a couple of days.
"I think the only thing we can say at this point is, we're looking into it," Van Voris said.
Norman told Sports Authority board members that he wants someone to attend the County Commission meeting Wednesday to provide an update on the afternoon's discussion.
The authority has indicated it could use the $12-million to make up a shortfall in its annual operating costs.
"At some point in time," said executive director Henry Saavedra, "it will be the Buccaneers' prerogative to decide whether they want to sell that property to us."