Attorney says Bucs accountable for money

Published December 12, 2006

TAMPA - Several hundred thousand tax dollars spent to scout locations and design a new Tampa Bay Buccaneers training facility must be repaid by the team if the Bucs decide not to transfer ownership of the facility to the public.

That was the latest legal opinion offered Monday by a Tampa Sports Authority attorney, as the Bucs remained silent in a debate over $12-million that Hillsborough officials offered them toward the new facility.

The Bucs signed an agreement with the Sports Authority in 1996 to transfer the deed to the facility if they took the money. The team opted instead to build a $30-million facility across the street from Raymond James Stadium, with private money.

Bucs chief operating officer Eric Land hasn't said what the team has in mind, though the Bucs have expressed interest in using the money for other improvements, like new locker rooms.

Land had attended a Sports Authority meeting during which board attorney John I. Van Voris outlined in a five-page opinion why the Bucs shouldn't get the money if the team doesn't deed over the property.

The Bucs spent slightly more than $336,000 of the $12-million to explore sites for the facility and other costs like legal fees and a design - money that Van Voris said would be paid back. Land called what should happen to the remaining money "speculative" until the Bucs say whether they plan to ask for it.

Sports Authority executive director Henry Saavedra agreed, saying Van Voris' detailed opinion about what happens to the money if the Bucs maintain full control of the facility is "hypothetical."

The Bucs must choose between the money and private ownership within 30 days after receiving their final certificate of occupancy. They have occupied the new facility since August under a temporary certificate of occupancy. A final certificate was expected to take as long as six months.

Land said Monday that the Bucs still haven't received it.

Kevin Graham can be reached at 813 226-3433 or kgraham@sptimes.com.