tampabay.com

Times Forum parking fees may hit $30

The Lightning stands to benefit if Tampa officials go along with the mayor's proposal.

By JANET ZINK
Published February 28, 2007


TAMPA - Patrons soon might need to bring along some extra cash for parking at big events at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio wants to increase fees in city garages and parking lots from a maximum of $12 to $30. Much of that extra money would go to the owners of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team, which plays at the Times Forum.

"This does provide the potential for more revenue going to the Lightning," said Darrell Smith, Iorio's chief of staff.

The deal needs approval of the Tampa City Council, which is scheduled to discuss it March 15.

The current special event parking rates at city facilities, in place since 2003, range from $5 to $12. The new rates would range from $2 to $30.

"It's very realistic," Smith said. "It's all based on what the market will bear rather than arbitrary rates."

Officials with Palace Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Lightning and operates the Times Forum, note that people pay up to $50 to park in private lots for soldout concerts.

City and team officials are still working out how much various events will cost.

"The circus will be much less than a soldout U2 concert," said Sean Henry, the team's chief operating officer.

He said he "can guarantee" it won't cost $30 this year to park for a regular season hockey game. But the change will allow the team to plan several years in advance without having to ask for another increase, he said.

City parking manager Jim Corbett said regular season hockey game parking would likely max out at $15.

"If the Lightning advances to the second-round playoffs, it might be $20. If they're in the championship, it might be $25," he said.

Smith said lowering the minimum parking fee will allow cheaper rates for charitable and community events, such as the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts.

The city operates about 10 lots and garages near the arena. Prices vary based on location and event. The most popular spots cost $12 for hockey games but can be as low as $5. Parking cost $12 at every facility for the soldout U2 concert in October 2005.

Some aren't so sure the market will bear such an increase.

"This isn't Manhattan," said Pamela Reeder, who attends concerts and hockey games. "Hockey tickets are already expensive."

Lightning officials have been trying for years to get more parking revenue generated during events at the Times Forum, saying they need money to make upgrades to the arena.

Iorio previously balked at the idea but in April began discussing options with the team.

A 12-year-old parking agreement with the Lightning gives the team a cut of parking money if it tops $750,000, which is the city's annual debt payment for a garage next to the Times Forum.

Last year for the first time, revenues passed $750,000, said city finance director Bonnie Wise.

The Lightning got $853.

The team also gets parking money based on attendance at the arena, an arrangement that has netted the team up to $420,000 a year.

The parking agreement does not allow the Lightning to collect more than $1.5-million in parking revenue from the city in any fiscal year, Wise said. The team last year also made about $500,000 from its own parking lots.

Henry said most professional hockey and basketball teams earn $5-million to $9-million annually in parking revenues.

Prime parking for Bucs games at Raymond James Stadium costs $25. Florida Panthers fans paid $20 to park in the most expensive spots last year, but it will now be rolled into the cost of tickets.

Meanwhile, lobbyists for the Lightning are pushing for state legislation that would give the team and other professional teams in Florida $2-million annual tax breaks for 30 years. The money could go only to sports facility improvements.

Hillsborough County commissioners agreed last summer to spend up to $35-million in future tourist tax dollars for renovations at the Times Forum.

The city's parking offer marks a significant shift in relations between Iorio and the Lightning.

She resisted giving the team more parking revenue, and last year was caught off guard when her $5.5-million request for state money for the Riverwalk appeared on the Legislature's budget as $3-million; the balance was earmarked for a parking garage for the Lightning under a Riverwalk label. Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed both requests.

Now, Lightning officials are helping the city lobby for money for the Riverwalk, which passes by the Times Forum.

It's not a closely coordinated effort, said Smith, Iorio's chief of staff.

"It's just whenever they have the opportunity to promote the Riverwalk as a key project for the city they are doing that," he said.

Times staff writer Jonathan Milton contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or 813 226-3401.